the answer is grace

It could all be over, it really could… this whole cosmos being held together thing doesn’t have to be a reality in this next moment.

Forget climate change, do you know that within atoms (the itty bitty stuff that makes up all “stuff”) are quarks that by definition are “believed” to be the basic building blocks of protons, neutrons, and hadrons? What I mean is, if we zoom in on the smallest physical reality and then slice it up, we are still mind boggled about how life is held together.

Unless we are believing Christ does the holding. Then those mind boggling beliefs about the basic building blocks of matter can make sense. And this is just exactly where I got stuck today in wonder. I don’t pretend to know anything about particles except what I’ve forgotten from high school Chemistry, but I do know that it’s wonderful. I know that the mysterious way things are held together is absolutely magical and inspiring.

This is the question that wedged in my throat as I wondered about things I don’t fully understand: Why? Why is Christ holding it together?

Jared C. Wilson quotes Lesslie Newbigin in Gospel Deeps when he talks about cosmic redemption,

But God in his patient and long-suffering love sustains the created world, and the world of human culture, in order that there may still be time and space for repentance and for the coming into being of the new creation within the womb of the old.

John Piper says that missions exist because worship doesn’t. Wow. God is literally holding all things together (every little quark of existence) in Christ so that there might be time for repentance.

If we are going to wonder like children, we might as well ask “Why?” like children, too. Why does God sustain the created world with such patience while creation actively aches to be restored? Why does God allow evil to continue and wars to erupt and people to die and diseases to destroy and nations to rage?

Why doesn’t Christ lift His finger or turn His head from “holding all things together” for one second so the cosmos collapse on themselves and He can rebuild from the ashes?

Only, only in the marvelous grace of God are we allowed to see a glorious because in the midst of this mystery.

Christ continues to hold all things together because God started writing this redemption narrative before a word was spoken into the formless void. He had already written the names of His children in the book of life before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:20, Revelations 13:8), knowing they would have a desperate need for a Savior and providing just such a Savior.

Christ continues to hold all things together because God is sovereignly working out His will to gather His children from the ends of the earth to enter into eternity with Him (Mark 13:27)He will not stop until the gathering is complete because He is a promise keeper.

Christ continues to hold all things together because God is making His name known to His creation, even those who shake their fists at His goodness. Our need for a Savior points to God’s gracious giving of a Savior (Psalm 66:2, Psalm 79:9, Romans 2).

And within every reason we can imagine there are a million other reasons Christ is holding things together and each one of them is a gift of grace.

Why is Christ holding this crazy cosmos together?

All I can come up with is grace. We are held together by the grace of God, allowed to question by the grace of God, able to be restless by the grace of God, and longing for home by the grace of God.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

These reflections come as I read through Gospel Deeps by Jared C. Wilson. I definitely encourage you to pick up a copy and read it for yourself. It’s one to read through slowly and process with other people (or on a blog!). Here are some other posts on my reflections on the book: Lord, I need Youmy heart will never not be Hisliving risen on a Mondayfurther up and further in you go, and our way into redemption.

our way into redemption

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south. (Psalm 107:1-3, ESV)

We are good at announcing victories. We have awards ceremonies and podiums and medals and elaborate speeches. We are good at announcing victories, but how do we announce our redemption? How do we talk about our soul’s resurrection?

Because I believe this is indeed the greatest cause for celebration. Redemption is the best reason to throw a festival or plan a party.

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

Let us commemorate our being found when we were lost, our being victorious when we were defeated, our being alive when we were dead! But our joyful, victorious entry into redemption is not carried by our proud steps of accomplishment but on the weary, beaten back of a perfect Savior. We are carried, limp and lifeless, by Christ to victory and we finish with the greatest reward.

Jared C. Wilson writes, “We disobeyed our way into fallenness, but we cannot obey our way into redemption.” (Gospel Deeps, p. 161)

He is our way into redemption. He is our victory and our celebration is in His name and for His fame. He is our way into redemption and He is the only way to announce victory in this life.

Wilson includes this list in his book Gospel Deeps and I think it pulls us into powerful proclamation as the redeemed children and inspires victorious living in the promises of our Redeemer. Wilson writes on page 160, “He has hemmed us in; he has us covered:

Christ is in us. (John 14:20; 17:23; Rom. 8:10-11; 2 Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:27)

Christ is over us. (Rom. 9:5; 1 Cor. 11:3; Col. 1:18; 3:1; Heb. 3:6)

Christ is through us. (Rom. 15:18; 2 Cor. 2:14; 5:20)

Christ is with us. (Matt. 18:20; 28:20; Eph. 2:5-6; 2 Tim. 4:17)

Christ is under us. (Luke 6:47-48; 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Cor. 3:11)

Christ is around us (that is to say, we are in and through him). (John 14:6; 1 Cor. 8:6; 2 Cor. 3:4, 14; 5:17; Gal. 3:27; Heb. 7:25)

We are good at announcing our victories, but this victory in Christ is like no other. We announce His victory in our redemption and we announce His sovereignty in our resurrected lives. I can imagine no greater speech than a life that speaks to this work.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

These reflections come as I read through Gospel Deeps by Jared C. Wilson. I definitely encourage you to pick up a copy and read it for yourself. It’s one to read through slowly and process with other people (or on a blog!). Here are some other posts on my reflections on the book: Lord, I need Youmy heart will never not be His, living risen on a Monday, further up and further in you go.

my heart will never not be His

There is not a depth that can reach the deeps of the excellencies of Christ.

Not a friendship or a family or a lover or an ocean avenue view; not a single created thing can plumb the depths of His glory or compare to the riches of His grace.

There have been times when I’ve wondered if I lack a very womanly and essential thing. I’ve wondered why I am not more emotional or more dramatic or more anticipatory about love in this life. I have wondered and worried why I am not wooed by the chick flick storyline, waiting for my world to shift when a dapper young man spills his drink on me downtown. I have wondered why I am not a hopeless romantic.

I have, up to this point, credited the amazing men in my life as largely responsible for my (mostly) reasonable approach to relationships. They still get kudos, but I realized recently why there is a steadiness in my step that is anchored as deep as the unplumbable depths: Christ.

I’m not trying to explain the pinterest-popular slogan, “a woman should get lost in Christ so a man has to seek Christ to find her” or some other version of the same idea. What I mean is… I am just content to be lost.

I do not need to be found by anyone else because the depths of Christ’s love are too deep! They go on and on and on forever. I am not singing with Beyoncé, “all you women, who independent throw your hands up at me,” so hear me out before you point and question my biblical view of complementarianism.

I am questioning the encouragement we give women to get lost in Christ as a means to an earthly end in a man. I was running around Gray’s Lake recently, considering my contentedness and questioning my relationship readiness when I realized,

“my heart will never not be His”

I remember my dad gave me a locket when I was thirteen. We were in San Diego on the “girl trip” that my sister and I took individually with him to mark our “coming of age.” It is as embarrassing as it sounds (well, more embarrassing was the camping trip I blushed my way through with my mom to listen to all of Dr. Dobson’s tape series on sexuality). The “Dad and me” version in San Diego was embarrassing (isn’t everything at 13?), but it was so very special. It was rare to have occasion to fly anywhere, but his being on the board of directors on the little rural electric cooperative made it possible for my sister and me to accompany him to (what we thought was) paradise.

He had left the details of our coming of age to the “tapes” (as us kids now call them), and instead over a nice dinner one night gave me a heart shaped locket. I don’t remember the exact speech, but I’m sure he labored over every letter. What I remember is something like this,

“Caroline, your mother and I love you very much. But God loves you more. This locket is a symbol to show that He will keep your heart safe until He sees fit to share it with someone else.”

I’m embarrassed to say gold was not my color as a junior high girl. The locket sat in a little chintzy heart shaped porcelain container on my shelf for years. But, that night when my dad shared his and God’s love for me, I started to understand what it meant to have a heart that is guarded and protected. I had trusted Jesus as my Savior at a young age and junior high was the first refining fire I blazed through, so knowing my heart was held in the hands of my Maker could not have been better news.

Though I can’t say high school and college were without drama, I rarely shouted girl power anthems with windows down and fists pumping the air. I think deep down I knew and believed that God had my heart and that was the safest place for it to be. I was secure, protected, loved, and cherished – even if those weren’t the words I would use to express it.

Now, running along Gray’s Lake in the too-bitter chill of Spring, I have peace that my heart will never not be His. Even when I do get married, my love for Christ and Christ’s love for me is the only and best anchor for my soul.

Marriage is one of the most beautiful pictures of God’s love, but it will always only be that: a picture. God’s love is the only thing that can reach the unplumbable depths and secure my spirit with an anchor that won’t disappoint.

My heart will never not be His and I trust Him to share or not share it.

These reflections come as I read through Gospel Deeps by Jared C. Wilson and as I consider unmarried life at 28 years old. Read this related post: seeking the greatest Treasure.

 

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. 

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.