I Want More (and You Do Too)

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It was C.S. Lewis who famously observed, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.”

I agree with Lewis, but I also know many people who’d say the pleasure has long worn off.  To be sure, many of us seek fulfillment outside of Christ, and like Lewis notes, we may even feel temporarily satisfied.  But when the dust settles and the novelty of our idols wears off, many of us are left craving more.

Something tells us there’s more to life than the daily grind.  There’s more to our faith than a Sunday sermon and the occasional quiet time.  There’s more to our few years on earth than mere existence.

Tammie Head speaks to this topic in her book titled More.  By weaving stories from her own life together with scriptural principles, she offers an accessible roadmap to the “more” we so desperately want.

The book’s main contention is that we were created for more than what we actually experience – more joy, more freedom, more satisfaction, more of God.  Along with Lewis, Head points out that we are partially to blame for our failure to enjoy these gifts.  She says, “We focus on ourselves, we focus on our problems, we focus on our pasts, we focus on our fears, we focus on our failures, we focus, focus, focus, on everything but Christ.”

She also acknowledges that, while our thirst for more can be quenched in part here and now, our craving will be satisfied finally and fully when we see Jesus face to face.

My favorite line of the book eloquently captures this tension of craving more of God while knowing our understanding of Him is limited this side of Heaven.  Head writes, “All of eternity is a celebration of how we knew things should have been.”

More of anything other than God will never be quite enough.  Or to borrow Head’s words, “God, three-in-One, He is the prize.”

B&H Publishing Group provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  I did not receive additional compensation for this post.

Gardening and Godliness

photo-1437010302401-bffaaca5520cAbout this time last year, my husband and I were getting ready to move into the first house we’d ever purchased.  Our energy was spent completing the renovations needed to make the house move-in ready.  With our focus on the inside of the house, we didn’t pay much attention to the exterior.  From what remains of garden beds, flower beds, and landscaping features, it seems like the yard was well-maintained at one time.

A year later and with the interior of the house in good shape, we’ve turned our attention to the outside.  Neither of us has much landscaping experience, but it didn’t take long for us to make one major observation: weeds grow much faster than plants.  I learned this the hard way after meticulously spraying our yard, waiting a day or two, and then pulling every weed I could find.  I probably don’t need to tell you how unimpressed I was when the weeds were back within a matter of weeks – and worse than they’d been before.

We still haven’t come up with a solution for our weeds, but the process has prompted me to think a little deeper.  Since horticultural imagery is plentiful throughout Scripture, broadening my understanding of gardening slightly has helped me appreciate biblical truth more fully.  For example, the person who trusts in the Lord “is like a tree planted by water” (Jeremiah 17:7).  God’s people are described as “oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3).  Jesus depicted His Father as a vinedresser who prunes fruitful branches so that their fruitfulness will increase (John 15:2).

Here’s what came to mind as I considered the present state of our yard:

We can’t get rid of weeds once and for all.  When I went to the store for weed spray, I expected it to take care of the problem for good.  I didn’t realize that the key to maintaining a weed-free yard is constant tending.  Similarly, we’re going to be sorely disappointed if we expect to kill off unhealthy habits and behaviors – weeds of the heart, if you will – in one fell swoop.  Instead, sin is uprooted from our hearts little by little as we tend to weak areas continually.

Just because a weed isn’t there today doesn’t mean there won’t be one tomorrow.  Like I mentioned before, my naivety led me to believe that I had taken care of the weeds because I didn’t see them anymore.  Once they’ve been pulled up, there’s no more weed problem, right?  Wrong.  Weeds spread their seeds in a variety of ways, usually going unnoticed until the problem recurs.  It’s better to be armed with an ongoing strategy for combatting the weeds than to be blindsided by their multiplication.  Likewise, just because we aren’t struggling in a particular area at the moment doesn’t mean it will never become an issue.  Sin has a tendency of blindsiding us if we aren’t on guard and ever aware of our own susceptibility to stumble.

The good stuff takes time to grow.  Our lack of gardening experience didn’t stop us from trying our hand at growing a few herbs.  Other than when I accidentally watered a sprout too forcefully, we’ve had a pretty successful debut.  Much to our dismay, though, we learned that herbs don’t grow nearly as fast as weeds.  One of my college professors used to say, “God grows things, and He’s not in a hurry.”  Now I have a better understanding of what he meant.  God is in the business of producing good fruit in the lives of His people, and good fruit takes time to grow.

Unlike me, God is a perfect Gardener.  He takes His time and skillfully places us in just the right conditions to bring about greater fruitfulness.  As we cooperate with His work in our lives, the weeds of the heart are gradually replaced by godliness, which grows and blossoms for His glory.

Take Cover

photo-1436407886995-41f8f5ee43adWhen Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, their first instinct was to hide.  Their reaction is fascinating considering sin was a new phenomenon and they had no conditioning that linked it with shame.  Nevertheless, after eating fruit from the forbidden tree, the couple realized their nakedness – of which they had been previously unashamed – and covered themselves with fig leaves.  Later they heard God walking in the garden and hid among the trees.  Not fooled by the duo’s disappearance, God confronted them, and Adam responded by admitting he heard God in the garden, was afraid because of his nakedness, and took cover.

We’ve been doing the same thing ever since.  A child breaks a lamp and immediately tries to hide it.  A teenager gets a speeding ticket and plots to pay it off without telling her parents.  An adult struggles with pride or fear or jealousy or bitterness but is unwilling to admit it to his peers.

King David depicted the toll it takes to conceal sin when he wrote, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away” (Psalm 32:3).  His subsequent statement, “I did not cover my iniquity”, suggests that he learned to prefer acknowledgement of sin over concealment (32:5).  Based on what we read in the rest of the Psalm, though, the instinct to cover sin is right, but there’s only one form of sufficient covering.

After listing the devastating consequences of their sin, “God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them”, indicating that an animal was killed to provide them with covering (Genesis 3:21).  The death of an animal in the garden was the first of innumerable sacrifices throughout Old Testament history, emphasizing Scripture’s teaching that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22).  Sufficient covering for sin always requires a death and, unless the guilty individual is going to bear the penalty himself, it has to come from the outside.

King David’s son Solomon echoed his father’s words when he wrote, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).  Owning up to our sin is often the last thing any of us wants to do – thus the self-covering.  But exposing our sin rather than hiding it is exactly what ushers in our pardon.  That’s the thing about mercy – we can’t embrace it if we’re not convinced we need it.  If we step out from behind the trees, though, our need is undeniable.  The question is: do we believe the One who calls us out of hiding will meet us with mercy?

Only a few verses prior to saying he didn’t cover his iniquity, King David declared, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1).  Was his sin covered or was it not?  Lest we misunderstand, his sin was most definitely covered, but not of his own doing.  There’s no substitute for the covering God alone provides.  Adam and Eve couldn’t do it in the garden, King David couldn’t do it when confronted about his adultery, and we can’t do it either.  A note in the ESV Study Bible clarifies the difference: “When God ‘covers’ sin, he graciously blots it out; when man ‘covers’ his sin, he is sinfully hiding it.”  This forces us to ask ourselves if we’d rather cover up our own sin and waste away on the inside while living in perpetual fear of being found out, or confess our sin and watch God hurl it into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19)?

Because an unblemished Lamb has already been sacrificed on our behalf, we have the guarantee that our God “will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7).  As the author of Hebrews so eloquently put it, “How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to the serve the living God…So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him…We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 9:14, 28; 10:10, 12).

The One who bore our sins is seated at God’s right hand as a constant reminder that our debt has been paid in full.  Because of Him, when we come out of hiding, our God adorns us, not temporarily with garments of skin, but eternally with garments of salvation (Isaiah 61:10).

Outside the Spotlight

unsplash_5252bb51404f8_1What comes to mind when you hear John the Baptist’s name?  If you picture a camel hear-wearing, locust-eating, wilderness dweller, you’re in good company.  John was all of those things, but there’s more to him than what our culture would deem quirky behavior.

John’s ministry was marked by a profound understanding of his purpose.  He readily admitted, “I am not the Christ,” and declared, “He who is coming after me is mightier than I” (John 1:20; Matthew 3:11).  On more than one occasion, he spotted Jesus and remarked, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36).  One of his most well-known statements summarizes his mission and explains his methods: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30).

My mom and I attended the Living Proof Live event in Cincinnati this past weekend, and Beth Moore defined greatness in a way that made me think of John.  She said, “A great person is someone who takes the spotlight and places it on the greatness of God.”

By that definition, John would certainly be considered great.  It doesn’t take much study of his life and ministry to realize that he was constantly pointing people to Jesus.  John used his influence to say, “Look at Him” instead of the ever-so-tempting, “Look at me.”  This sense of purpose was rooted in an accurate understanding of self and Savior.

Knowing who he wasn’t enabled John to have a clearer grasp of who he was.  He wasn’t the Savior.  He wasn’t the promised Messiah.  He wasn’t the One who could take away sin.  He wasn’t the light.  But he was a witness to the One who was and still is all of those things.  John’s purpose in life wasn’t to be in the spotlight, but to reposition it so others could see the true Star in all His glory.

John’s ministry had a unique place and purpose in salvation history, but his example is one we can emulate right where we are.  The specifics differ as to how and where each of us does this, but what we are to do is the same across the board: let Christ take center stage, and keep the spotlight on Him.

This may not seem like an appealing way to spend our lives because it’s the antithesis of everything our culture tells us is important.  We’ve been trained to think of greatness as personal achievement and accolades, but true greatness recognizes Ultimate Greatness and make sure He is always in the foreground.  There’s only One who deserves the spotlight and the very best use of our lives is making sure others know all about His.

Charleston and the Blood of Jesus

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Tears ran down my cheeks.  I have to confess, it caught me by surprise.  It’s not that I didn’t care, because I did.  I had watched the news, read the articles, and even talked about it with my husband.  But there was something I hadn’t done up to this point.

I hadn’t seen a picture.  When I did, I saw a wife and mother of three with her arm around her college-aged son – a baseball player.  Seeing a photo of one of the victims for the first time made it click – this is real.

My eyes burned until a tear finally spilled over the edge.  His mom is gone.  Yes, the tears came because I hurt for this boy, but they continued for another reason.  I thought about losing my own mom, and I realized that I’ve worried about things happening to my loved ones, but never because of their skin color.

The tears kept falling, now coupled with a sinking feeling in my stomach.  It was the first time I stopped to consider how being born white in the United States has shaped my experience.

Members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC were killed last Wednesday night because of their skin color.  Husbands lost wives and wives lost husbands because they were black.  Children lost fathers and mothers because of their race.

Horrible isn’t a strong enough word.

I recognize that there are layers to issues like this one.  It’s complicated to talk about, especially with so many political, social, and historical matters tangled together.  Because there’s quite a bit I don’t understand, I’m tempted to remain silent.  But I’ve come to the realization that, although I don’t understand everything, I do understand something.  And it’s time to speak up.

According to our nation’s Founding Fathers, it’s a “self-evident” truth that “all men are created equal.”  Christians must go a step further and affirm Scripture’s teaching that all men are created by God in His image (Genesis 1:27).  Regardless of age, race, gender, or creed, we are all divine image bearers.  Furthermore, all who are in Christ are part of “a chosen race” – a group of people linked, not by culture or natural lineage, but by a bloodline stronger than that of any earthly family (1 Peter 2:8).

When Jesus died, peace with God and with others became a reality.  That which stood between fellowship with God and unity with others was abolished as Jesus made “one new man in place of the two” and reconciled “both…to God…through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:14-16).  Jesus’ crucifixion dealt the deathblow to the racial enmity stemming from the false belief that knowing God was only for the Jews.  Paul’s message to the non-Jewish church in Ephesus was that they too were “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:19).  The blood of Jesus defines us more decisively than the blood that runs through our veins.

When people are devalued in any way for any reason, believers don’t have the option of indifference.  Non-Christians are fellow image bearers, and Christians are our brothers and sisters.  Our response to hatred should be an accurate reflection of our transformed identities because the blood of Jesus also motivates us more persuasively than the blood that runs through our veins.  How else could victims’ family members look at the gunman and offer words of forgiveness in the midst of unspeakable pain?

The tears haven’t stopped, but we grieve as those with tremendous hope.  The events of last Wednesday will be seared on our nation’s memory for years to come.  Prayerfully, they will be the catalyst for a drastic change that foreshadows a coming day when diversity will never again bring division, but will be an eternal testimony of a God who shed His own blood to save people from every bloodline on earth (Revelation 5:9-10).