behold the greatness

“Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.    Isaiah 40:9b-10

Rhythms, disciplines, or practices; call them whatever you like but in the Christian life we have a whole list of things to do. They are things we should be pursuing and engaging in as regular parts of our following after Jesus. From Bible reading, to time spent praying, fasting, serving others and worshiping (just to name a few); we have a list of “to do’s” that are a part of our lives.

These practices are good things. They are right things–so long as they are kept in their proper place. So long as they are seen as ways of responding to Christ. So long as the “to do’s” don’t become our identity or the place from which we get our value. I love these things we do. I love learning how to do them better, how to go deeper with them, how to learn more of Christ in them. And I read books on them; books on how to study the Bible well, how to pray effectively, how to fast responsibly, etc.

I’m wondering though, is there a practice (at least one) that we have largely neglected? Not that we would disagree that it’s needed, but have we forgotten to preach and teach on it, to write good books about it; forgotten to encourage one another to spend intentional time in it?

I’m thinking of the practice of beholding. Beholding the greatness of God; beholding his majesty and magnificence. I’m not talking about listing the things he’s done for us, that’s the practice of gratitude (another intentional practice that we don’t give enough attention to). What I’m talking about here though is recognizing the holiness and grandeur of God. Not just being awed by what he does for us, but literally being amazed and astounded by who is.

When was the last time you spent significant energy considering the truths about God’s character that involve more than just listing what he’s done for you? 

We see merit in setting aside time to read our Bibles (even if we struggle to do so regularly) and we see the need to give time to prayer. Why would we not also give intentional time to the practice of beholding the greatness of God? The NIV uses the simple word “see” in Isaiah 40:10, “See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power…” and the ESV uses the word “behold” in the same verse. Personally, I like the word behold a little more because for me it intimates something deep and significant. An intentional perceiving of something (or in this case, Someone) impressive. But the call us for to see the Sovereign Lord is such a powerful reminder as well.

How often do we just not see him in our daily activitites? How often do we pray to ask for things from him and read to learn things about him and talk to tell some things about him and yet go through the whole day and not see him?

Behold the greatness of God. He comes and he brings everything with him that he needs. His rule is with him, his reward is with him, his recompense is with him. He does not come needing or seeking to gain. He comes delievering, determining, ruling. And all he receives ultimatley has come from him as well.

I love how Isaiah 40 proceeds afetr verse 10, because it offers the chance to bring about comparisons. It asks some critical questions of God: Who measures up to him? Who is like him? Who can give counsel to him? Comprehend him? Who has his endurance, or power, or faithfulness?

No one. No one. No one.

Behold the greatness of God, who has no equal, who is measured against none but himself. The Sovereign Lord who is Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer all in one.

How would our hearts be changed if we began to give regular time to sit and ponder the greatness of God? What if we were patient enough and willing enough to learn how to make our relationship with Christ less about ourselves and our needs and our wants and our blessings and our thoughts and more increasingly about Jesus? What if when we spent time in Bible study and in prayer we spent equal time in beholding God, in seeing him? Can you imagine the way our hearts would be moved? The depths of the love of Christ we would discover? The change we would experience?

It seems to me we would come to know him far deeper and love him far greater.

Now this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  John 17:3

 

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a return and some thoughts on grieving well

It has been six months (almost exactly) since last I wrote something here. It was an intentional and needed rest from writing, but now the time seems right to begin again. Hopefully you’ll join me on this journey, reading my words and then sharing your own thoughts in response.

As a way of starting again I wanted share something I wrote the other day for my local church family. As a church we find ourselves gathering around a dear and precious family who has experienced the great loss of their 11 month old daughter who was battling cancer. It is a tragic loss that wreaks of the wrongness of sin and death in our world. As a response to these events I simply wrote a few thoughts regarding the pursuit of grieving well. As an American I have long since been convinced that our culture has no concept of how to practice this well. Below you’ll find my initial thoughts on grieving well. There is more to say certainly, but this is a start.

For those of you reading who are not American, I would love to hear your thoughts on grief within your own cultures.

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Times of great loss and sorrow seem to highlight the fact that as a culture, Americans are poorly equipped for grieving. It is not something we are taught how to approach and certainly not something we have learned to value. We however, are the Body of Christ, his chosen people, his royal priesthood and as such we should make intentional steps towards this practice of grieving well. We are called to grieve in ways distinct from those who don’t have the hope of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

I wanted to simply offer a few thoughts on grieving well with those who are in the midst of loss. How do we approach those who are grieving and what does it look like to live in that tension of being a people who both have great hope and also suffer deep loss? This isn’t a “how to” or some definitive final word on grief. It is simply a few thoughts to consider and some ways to be intentional and biblical as we respond. 

1)    Be present not wise

In the book of Job we find Job’s friends coming to his side at his time of great loss and suffering. So much of the book of Job is filled with their conversations that it can be easy to miss the significant reality of their presence. The friends of Job sat in silence with him for seven days before speaking a word.

And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.       Job 2:12-13

They raised their voices in weeping, but not in an attempt to offer advice or counsel—not for a whole week. There is mighty power in simply being present with one who is grieving the loss of a loved one. Our willingness to sit patiently with them while they weep and remember and rant is an act of great love. So often when we see those in grief we are tempted to give our best counsel, our wisest words. The truth is that often we are motivated to do this mainly because it makes us feel better. The friends of Job loved him enough to wait for him to speak; they waited until he was ready.

When you see those suffering great loss give them a long hug, sit down beside them, be present. Don’t be tempted to put your wisdom on display.

2)    Be of the Truth

When the time does come to speak to those in grief fight the urge to say whatever comes to mind, to just speak flowery words that carry no depth. Speak biblical truth, speak words of Scripture. Psalm 119:25 reads, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” There is an understanding here that God’s words carry life. They draw our souls from the dirt and revive us.

 Before you go to the side of those in grief, pray for biblical wisdom from God. Spend a few moments in your Bible considering what you might share and then when you see them, share those words. Don’t be drawn into the desire to use Scripture as a springboard into your own commentary on what it means and how it applies. Just speak truth, and let the power of God’s own words sink deep into the soul of the hearer. Feel free to share your own sorrow and grief, your own memories of their lost loved ones, but also be sure you are offering them a balm for their soul. The words of Scripture can soothe better than any words you or I could come up with on our own.

3)    Be a long sufferer 

Some of the older Bible translations use the word longsuffering instead of the word patience that most modern translations opt for (like Galatians 5:22 which describes the fruit of the Spirit). I think this word longsuffering provides and incredibly significant image when it comes to loving well those who are in grief. The tragic reality is that in our culture most people have a very limited tolerance for engaging with those who are grieving great loss. It’s not that we don’t love those who are grieving, but the reality is that it is incredibly painful and difficult to continue weeks and months later to sit patiently and cry together. It’s painful to consistently remember with them those lost loved ones. To listen and talk with them as they go through deeper pain than we may be prepared to identify with. To grieve well with our brothers and sisters takes great patience. It is an act of longsuffering.

We need to be in prayer that God, by his Spirit, would develop in us a depth of patience that could be described as longsuffering. That we would be made ready for the long journey of grieving that lies ahead. That our hearts would grow in capacity, that we would become a people of mercy and compassion that we could never be on our own. 

4)    Be hopeful

We are a people of hope. We know that Jesus is coming again, that those who are found in him will experience life without end; that death will be dealt the final blow removing any influence it has on our lives. We know that we are looking to a better home, that God has prepared us for this very thing. We should cling to that and proclaim that to each other always. 

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.              2 Corinthians 5:1-7

story

I love a good story. Like nothing else, a good story can cause hours to completely disappear and problems to fade into the background. I can get lost in world’s I’ve never been to and times I’ve not lived in. Stories are so appealing because they highlight the human struggle and they bring forth heroes and villains. Good stories give us the chance to hope and feel and bond with the characters. It’s so difficult to resist being pulled into a really well written or well told story. If we’re honest, it’s partly because most of us secretly want to be the hero of some epic tale. We’re drawn to that idea of being the central character who fights against the wrong and triumphs for the good.

 

I’ve found that because this is true it’s also easy to approach my life as if this is my story, my chance to be the hero. I am often tempted to view myself as the central character of my life’s story. After all, this life I live is ultimately about me, right? Isn’t that why it’s called my life? This false perception can also be perpetuated by the way we talk and the way we pray. We speak of Jesus saving us (which he does) and we pray asking him for what we want and need. These aren’t wrong, but they can tend to encourage us to continue making ourselves the main character of the story of our lives. We can begin to view Jesus as the guy who adds to our life, who rounds it out, rather than the one who is our life. As if Jesus takes our life which would be a 6 or 7 on its own and tips the scales bringing life up to a strong 9 or 10.

 

Thankfully, the gospel reminds us that this is simply not the case. The story of which we are a part is not our story it’s God’s. The story isn’t focused on what I do in these seventy or so years I am given. It’s not mainly about how I manage my decisions and opportunities and develop my skills. It’s not a story about the conflicts I face or the people I impact. The story—much to my ego’s dismay—is not about me.

 

I find my true place in God’s story by the saving grace of Jesus. I am given purpose and hope and joy because of Jesus. I am given life and direction and value, because of Jesus. This is his story playing out in the scenes of my life. Just consider Romans 5:

 

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.           Romans 5:6-11

 

There is a grand story that spans all of human history and it is this story—God’s story—that makes sense out of everything in our lives. This story tells of God’s great and enduring love for a people who rebel; a people of sin. God created, humanity sins, and God redeems and re-creates.

 

Like any good story, God’s story contains all the necessary elements. There is conflict that comes in the form of sin and there is a climax that appears on the cross when Jesus dies for our sins and is resurrected three days later. Contrary to how I often think, the climax of my story doesn’t happen when I get that big break at work, or when I finally get recognition for my abilities. The climax of my life’s story isn’t my wedding day or retirement or the arrival of my first child. It’s not landing that dream job or some other noble pursuit. The climax of our story already took place over 2,000 years ago.

 

When Christ died for the ungodly; when God showed his love for us sinners; when we were justified by the blood of Christ on the cross and saved from the wrath of God—this is the climax of the story we now live. I was an enemy of God and was reconciled by the death of his Son. The story will never get better than this. Everything that happens now, no matter how significant and impactful, is resolution to the climax. We are living out what the climax of the story has made possible.

 

a call to remember

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.   Ephesians 2:11-13

 

 Remember that at one time you were separated from God. Remember that you were an alien—you had no belonging and no understanding of God. Remember that you were once separated. You were without God.

 

It’s good to remember, even if what we are remembering is itself not good. It’s good to keep in mind where we’ve come from and what we’ve been saved from. It’s good to have this kind of perspective. Remembering that God has given us all we have and made us all we are. Remembering that when left to ourselves we were without hope and without God.

 

 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.           

1 Peter 2:9-10

  

Remembering what we once were (and were not) makes being who we are now all the more sweet. It’s harder to rail against the church with all its foibles (and there certainly are a lot we could get distracted with!) when we remember that we now belong to a people when once we were alone. When we remember that this church is God’s royal priesthood and holy nation and that we are inseparable from them—we are them! It’s also harder to be malcontented with the day’s little bumps and struggles when we are remembering that we were once separated from Christ and in utter darkness, but now we walk in his marvelous light.

  

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.         Deuteronomy 15:15

 

 It’s remarkable the way the book of Deuteronomy is filled with calls to remember. At least four times the call is a distinct call to “remember when you were slaves.” There are also a multitude of calls to remember sins committed and God’s faithfulness, but God goes out of his way to have Moses call the people to the specific memory of slavery. He does this repeatedly. How better to produce thankfulness and gratitude for our rescue than to remember what we once were?

 

But what if I came to Christ as a young child? Doesn’t that make these memories less sweet? Doesn’t it mean less because I had less time and freedom to allow my sinful nature full access to all its corruptive potential?

 

Consider again the Israelites who were commanded to remember they were slaves. Do you think it meant less to those who were children when they left Egypt simply because they had not yet had the opportunity to bear the full brunt and punishment of their slavery? Was the present less sweet? Were they less enslaved in Egypt than their parents? Certainly not. If anything, they should have greater thankfulness from the realization that God brought them out so soon; so quickly before they were subjugated to their slavery as adults. Just because they were children didn’t make them less enslaved. The same can be said of those of us who came to Christ as young children. We were not less enslaved, less sinful, less corrupted and hopeless. We were on the same trajectory as all human beings, and God saw fit to rescue us.

 

Remember that you were spearated from Christ, but now you who once were far off have been brought near by his blood. This is the most beautiful of memories.

 

eternal life

What do you think about when you consider eternal life?

 

As Christians, so much hope and longing is attached to the idea of eternity and eternal life. Not to mention some odd thoughts on what heaven will be like and how we will occupy ourselves for all the time that eternity will afford us—if “time” is even a relevant consideration when discussing eternity. Increasingly I’m convinced that we sell eternity miserably short with our temptation to shrink it down to a more manageable and comfortable pocket-sized understanding of temporal utopia. What is eternal life really? What are we hoping for?

 

Consider what Jesus has to say about eternal life in John 17:3.

 

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.            John 17:3

 

Eternal life. It’s not described by what we will be doing or how we will be living, or where or any other trivial, temporary values. It’s not measured in pleasures we will gain, or eases will enjoy, or the whiteness of our surroundings (where did we get the idea of an all white existence anyway?!) For Jesus, as he prays to the Father, eternal life is described by the person we will be knowing.

 

Do we sense in these words the immensity of God? To know him is eternal life in the making. To know this God is not something that is a part of life, but is itself life. God, in all his grandeur, is not to be known so that we may live differently; but knowing him is living in all its fullness. Knowing God is described in terms of eternity because he is a God of such immensity and fullness that knowing him is not a part-time endeavor or a momentary enjoyment. It is eternal. It is living.

 

This is eternal life: knowing the only true God and knowing his Son whom he sent to save us. Eternal life is found in a relationship with the Almighty. It’s found in knowing him.

 

This isn’t the only place we find this idea presented by Jesus. Look at what he says earlier in John’s gospel:

 

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.         John 5:39-40

 

Finding eternal life, that’s the subject of Jesus’ words here. And he’s putting the Scriptures in their proper place. The Bible itself doesn’t give eternal life. It points to eternal life because it points to Jesus. Eternal life isn’t about getting to heaven, as if heaven was our ultimate goal. Eternal life isn’t about escaping hell. Eternal life isn’t just about knowing the Bible. Eternal life is about knowing God. A God who will fill all eternity with himself. A God so immense and so full, a God so satisfying, that knowing him is itself eternal life.

 

This is something worthy of our time and consideration.

 

What do we think of when we think of eternal life? What are we hoping for? If eternal life is knowing God and knowing his Son, isn’t it true that eternal life is a part of now, not just something we wait for then?

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These thoughts reflect a deeper conversation that was had on John 17 in my living room last night. The people who gather there each week are dear to me and I am so grateful for the way we are learning to be a gospel-centered community for one another; for the ways we explore the Scriptures, push each other towards Jesus, and challenge one another as we grow.

hidden

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.    Colossians 3:1-4

 

The great redemption story of the Bible is that God is actively and intentionally rescuing us from ourselves. In his infinite grace and mercy God makes a way for us sinners to be restored to him through Jesus. I know we know this. I’m just not always convinced that we know this. What I mean is that I think we easily and often lose sight of the glorious gift of our salvation and all the implications of it.

 

Look at Paul’s powerful language to the Colossian church:

 

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

 

It isn’t that somehow God simply paid a fine for us by the death of his Son and now we go on our merry way with a “get out of jail free” card. It is wholly true that Jesus paid our debt of sin—I’m not implying otherwise—but the implications are far greater than us just now being given a pass.

 

When Jesus died, we died. That’s what Paul is explaining in the middle of Colossians 2. And here he simply references that truth. “For you have died…” You and I are no more; at least not as our old selves. We now have a life that is hidden in Christ. Jesus’ death and resurrection doesn’t simply wash the dirt off of who we were and give us a fresh coat of paint. When God gave himself up for us he destroyed the old and corrupted one that we were, cancelling our debt because he rid us of the old creation. We have been made wholly different, with a new origin and a new existence. Neither are our own.

 

Now, who we are is hidden in who Christ is. And this is an abundant grace! It isn’t as petty as losing our individuality and identity. Instead it is that we are given a far better identity and rescued from the barrenness of our corrupted isolation (which we often mistakenly laud as individuality). We are now part of the Body of Christ. Connected to the Vine. Living stones being built up as a spiritual house. You can choose whichever metaphor you like, the Bible is replete with them. We who were not a people are now God’s people.

 

Who we are is hidden in who Christ is.

 

I’ve been thinking off and on about this for quite a few days. I read this passage earlier this week and I keep finding this concept returning to me. What does it mean? What does it look like to live in light of this truth?

 

Who I am is hidden in who Christ is. What does this mean for how I live today? How I think? What I chase after and what I value? Am I still finding myself living for who I used to be? Living for self? Living for the approval of others? Living in response to fear or a desire to control? Am I setting the agenda, defining the parameters, living in an unhidden attempt to make a name for myself?

 

The radical—and even offense—truth of the gospel comes in Paul’s next words. He declares to this Colossian church that because we are hidden in Christ we don’t even appear until he does. Alone we are nothing. Christ is all and we are in him, hidden there against our own sinfulness and depravity. Hidden there against our own inabilities and weakness. Hidden there to share in his glory when he returns.

 

Why is it again that we are always trying to come out of hiding? Always trying to make our own way, get attention for ourselves, establish our own plans?

 

reality check

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16

 

 

Sometimes I read of the things God has given and I can’t help but wonder about us humans. How is it that we get so side-tracked on the things we aren’t getting? How is it we settle so easily for a few temporary conveniences and celebrate them as if they are the greatest of God’s blessings? Why do we so easily feel unloved when we find the plans that we’ve made collapsing and fail to see the magnitude of what we’ve been given apart from anything we could have devised on our own?

 

God has given us his Spirit.

 

How do we even get passed that truth? How do we wrap our minds around the magnificence of what we are being told?

 

God, the Almighty Creator of the universe, the one by whom things were formed at the sound of his voice has given us his Spirit. This God whose beginning never was and whose end doesn’t exist dwells within us. Our God, who acts in always perfection and has more wrath and grace and mercy and judgment than ever could be held by another. This God who is always right, more than fair, beyond loving, overflowing with righteousness, and whose glory is too much to behold; this God has come and made his home in us.

 

Tell me, how do we ever get beyond this? How do we ever loss interest in this? How do we ever forget something of this immensity?

 

In what circumstance could it ever be understandable that we would wake in the morning and not be leveled by the reality of so much grace that would lead a God of such utter holiness—such terrific perfection and purity—to indwell these broken, feeble, sinners we are?

 

God has given us his Spirit.

 

Some days we simply need a reality check. Not because we’re living in pursuit of too much, but because we’ve settle for far too little. We’ve not called on God to give more than he can, but have allowed ourselves to be slumbered by so much less than what is ours. God has given us his Spirit. We have the mind of Christ. And so we preach the gospel to ourselves again and again. We read these truths of Scripture, re-celebrate what has been given us by the Father, and find renewed hope and joy in the reality of our grace-filled lives.

 

God has given us his Spirit. Praise Him.