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.

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.