faith & the Mona Lisa

photo-1423742774270-6884aac775fa

Suppose you viewed the Mona Lisa at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. As the most famous, valuable painting in the world, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, it would be hard not to revel in the moment- regardless of the degree to which you appreciate the art for its aesthetics.

As you experienced art at its height, the depth of the moment settled onto your shoulders. Not surprisingly, praise welled up inside of you.

What’s going on? Why do you feel praise? Who are you praising?

“Oh, I’m praising myself for this,” someone could say. “Look, I’ve just created an incredible experience by being here at the Louvre Museum, viewing a painting of incredible worth because I understand its value.”

Your mouth might rightly fall open if you heard that. “Is this moment so obviously about you and how much your mind can grasp the significance of what is here? What nonsense!” We know that to praise oneself would be utmost conceit. “Where were you when da Vinci created his masterpiece?” You mirht be tempted to ask. “You are simply one of the thousands who has been honored to benefit from magnificence of which you had no part.”

Perhaps the answer someone gives is, “I am praising the Mona Lisa. It is beautiful, masterful, and breath-taking in its modesty. How stunning to experience such skill, age, and value as this single painting!”

In the presence of a worthy piece, personal insignificance is quickly perceived. “Who am I to experience a moment such as this?” is a pertinent question. It is a worthy creation. However, praise means nothing to this painting: despite its worth, it is an inanimate piece.

Behind the Mona Lisa is Leonardo da Vinci. It was his mastery which left behind this legacy for the world to experience.  It is not hard to understand, in the moment when you feel praise for what you are experiencing, that the praise belongs to the master and creator of the moment.

*     *     *     *     *

I’ve been wanting to talk about faith. Faith seems to be a complicated word based on modern understanding and interpretation. People at times shy away from it because it’s so abused by some branches of religion or because we don’t know what people will think of our interpretation of faith. Right now, I’m on a personal journey to understand Biblical faith more accurately.

I’m not trying to define faith right here, but instead to point the focus back to where it belongs. I’ve heard people abuse faith by claiming that a lack of faith-accomplishing-miracles is an indictment against an individual. However, faith, at it’s heart, isn’t about people per se despite how much humankind needs Biblical faith. To pin the worth and merit of faith on a person is like giving glory to oneself for experiencing the Mona Lisa. It’s a skewed focus and makes no sense.

I’ve heard faith quantified by people who say “If _____ isn’t happening in your life, you don’t have enough faith.” Yes, faith is vital and profound, but putting all your focus on quantified faith is like praising the Mona Lisa for creating a masterful moment. Ultimately there’s something deeper and more magnificent in the background.

Instead faith looks away from individuals and away from itself to God. We know God and give praise to God because of God, not because we know God through faith. We see miracles accomplished not because there is faith but because there is God Who saves us by faith. When I study faith, I am struck by the reality that Biblical faith is founded in God, springs from God, and looks to God- always, with no exceptions. 

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
-Ephesians 2:8-9

again & again

o0xalix51pq-maria-stiehler.jpg

The world is a repetitive place. Life moves along in days, seasons, and years. Each day we get up, eat three meals, and go to bed again only to repeat it tomorrow. King Solomon recognized this: “The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7)

At times it feels like we’re getting nowhere. Am I the only one who sometimes delays going to bed because that means everything will be undone again when I get up in the morning? Solomon called it all “Vanity of vanities.”

Naturally we are tempted to wish that life wasn’t all repetition. It sounds more inviting to have big events frequently, with only a little repetition thrown in to keep from getting overwhelmed. God had a different plan. The physical realm repeats itself as an indicator of the Spiritual.

But how do we run a race of life and not burn out: when we can never see the end, when it’s constantly repeating, when it feels as if we are continually set back where we started? We cannot strain ahead and know the completion. Only God is aware of our time-table. We may fear burnout but still must pour all energy into the here and now.

Rather than set us back, the repetition of life is what moves us forward. We must repeat godliness over and over until we die: then we will know that we have finished the race well, by God’s grace. 

God is working on my heart, teaching me to accept that small, daily faithfulness is what is truly important. It is the continual repetition that proves where a heart is at. The repetition of sin proves a heart enslaved to sin. The repetition of righteous proves a heart in love with God. If we give up after one try, we’ll find ourselves right back where we thought we had left. If we keep going, continually repeating what we already thought was done, we will find our hearts in a better place. Everyone wants final completion while what we need is continuing faithfulness. 

How long will the repetition last? It is impossible to say. So we strain ahead to the next moment and do it all again. It it eternity before our eyes and in our hearts.

“To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.”
-Romans 2:7

Are we discouraged because life feels like “again and again and again”? Keep doing it faithfully. Keep doing it for the Lord. Keep doing it again. We can’t look at the big picture unless we look at the next step, and eventually the next step will take us into eternity.

truth for your hard times

_rsgm7nob3w-lee-miller

Where do you go when you’re facing your hardest times?

I’ve been noticing a trend lately: when people are in a difficult trial, compassion and truth are often pitted against one another. Perhaps you’ve noticed this, too, depicted in media and hinted at in well-meant advice. Either we sympathize with with a hurting person, or we preach truth at them as if we’ve never felt a pain ourselves.

What choice do we have for hard times? Compassion and love or sterile, heartless truth are the options they give us. Which one do you want?

This choice we’re apparently forced into frustrates me badly. Are truth and compassion choices to take or leave: options, but you can only choose one? How can we do without both?

I love that the Apostle Paul said “weep with those who weep.” Paul understood sympathy and compassion much better than the large majority of the world. I believe he was a master of compassion because of the huge quantity of trials he experienced. Paul would have no problem weeping alongside a hurting soul because he understood pain so deeply. This is what people naturally want in their hard times.

But you will also find Paul and the other Apostles speaking truth- particularly in the moments where even Christian society sometimes nearly labels truth as off-limits. When an individual was being persecuted for Christ, the Apostles spoke truth to them. When death visited a family, the Apostles wrote encouragement through the truth. Is someone tempted to turn from Christ? The truth written by the Apostles is urgently needed. Are you despairing of life itself? So did Paul, and he realized then that what he needed was truth. (2 Cor. 1:9)

Does truth seem hard and cold to you especially in the moments of utter pain? What good is the Bible if it cannot encompass your pain, if it’s truth is too lofty for the moments when your heart is breaking?

What if, after Adam and Eve sinned, God had not promised a Savior while giving the curses? That promise based on the foreknowledge of God was truth. It was also compassion to the highest degree. Imagine if, in that darkest moment for humankind, we had been left without a promised Savior. What if God had only looked sympathetically at Adam and Eve and told them he was sorry their lives would be painful. Every life would be drastically different; yet, so often, this is what people suppose they want: sympathy but not truth. 

Are you facing difficulties you cannot make sense of? These are moments when you desperately need truth. Run to it. God’s truth is not sterile and heartless; it is compassionate and comforting.  The truth of Scripture is laced with love- fountains of life flowing from a God who understands pain, sorrow, and longing far more deeply than a finite human ever can. Truth is what God expects His children will believe, appreciate, and rely on during their hardest times. 

perfectly compiled life

z2otkwtt7hm-clem-onojeghuo.jpg

Social media is the perfect place to find perfect looking lives. Sometimes it feels like every Instagram account records the life of an adventurer, heart filled with beautiful dreams while inhabiting the coziest coffee shops around. It can be hard not to look at social media sometimes without wanting a life like that. 

What if you had everything in your life going for you? Everything you owned assisted you in living the life you dream of. The people in your life always encouraged you, and your circumstances were particularly perfect for advancing you towards your goals. It would be as if having a trouble wasn’t possible. The perfectly compiled life. 

That’s where the world markets ambition to achieve our dreams: Get a job like this.  Go to these places. Buy…well, everything. Be this way, and do that.

Ambition is not the answer. The Apostle Paul actually took a different route, choosing contentment. We don’t need the same sort of ambition as the world, because God actually creates perfectly compiled lives for His children.

There is a paradox in the Christian life: We are following a King of whom the world is not worthy. This directly implies hardship from a daily cross. Simultaneously, we are gifted with perfectly compiled lives, made beautiful by God.

This paradox means that the way God compiles beautiful lives doesn’t necessarily look just like the perfect social media-lives. What kind of beautiful lives does God compile? They might include disappointed dreams, illness, broken relationships, difficult circumstances; those things hardly sound like part of a beautiful life.

One simple truth transforms everything: The God who did not spare His own Son for our sake will not withhold anything good from us. All things work together for good to those who love God. Lose the cliché in that, and get the incredible depth. God has designed every step of your life for good. It is as if every single thing in your life is hand selected to point you toward your deepest dream.

Here we have a new year, and who knows what it might be filled with? Perhaps picture perfect scenes, adventures, and good coffee. (Those are all lovely, legitimate things.)  Perhaps things we wish we could forget, times that will be retold with tears. Perhaps both the good and the hard. Either way, these things in 2017 will be perfectly compiled, all the things we need.

how about a ‘thank you’?

9hsvmg6nshe-ben-white

When I met a well-known preacher at a conference just several weeks before turning twenty-one, he asked me if I was fifteen. That certainly was not exactly what a hoping-to-sound-mature twenty year old was looking for. In the end it didn’t matter because my point in meeting him was not to talk about my age but rather to say thank you for Biblical preaching and the influence it has left on my life.

That sort of thing can feel awkward: waiting through a long line, having just a moment to say something hopefully meaningful- even though you’re only another person taking time and saying what everyone else is also saying. But if nothing else the experience is meaningful to us because we want- and ought- to thank the people who have a special influence on our lives.  I’m glad I’ve had opportunity to thank a few preachers who have influenced me from afar by their sound teaching. It was worth it to sacrifice time and expense for those opportunities.

Thanksgiving, however, is not only for significant days or rare opportunities but best exists in our practical daily contexts. Like this one: Do you thank your pastors?

The ones who keep watch on our spiritual well-being, expend hours upon hours to ground us in God’s Word, and labor under the care of the church sadly are often the ones left un-thanked.

I think it’s important  we make an effort to make sure that isn’t the case in our churches. Wherever God has put you, please, thank your pastors! Remind them their work is not in vain in the Lord and that you personally are being strengthened by the effort they are selflessly giving.

Make appreciation a frequent thing. Can a single thank you  cover for every single week your pastors shepherd and teach? Much less than one lone thank you is sufficient for every meal your mom ever cooks you.  Thanking your pastor every week would be wonderful!

Don’t worry about overthinking what you’re trying to say. It doesn’t need to sound eloquent, and sometimes the desire to be totally put together will hinder us from actually saying anything. Thank you is about expressing appreciation, so if you have appreciation just go ahead and express it- even if it doesn’t come out sounding just the way you wish it would.

Talk about their ministry with them. The sermons they preached or the exhortations they shared are certainly on their minds- and they will hope it’s on your mind too. Let them know what resonated with you or share further thoughts that come to mind. Gratitude isn’t about fulfilling an obligation (though we have one)- more importantly it’s genuinely expressing our heartfelt thanks.

Of course, the best way to show our appreciation of our pastors is not simply by thanking them, but ingesting and living out the truth they bring to us. That said, while the living may seem like a nice excuse not to have to say thanks, it’s only an excuse. I was happy after getting to meet a preacher who had helped my life from afar. Just think about how much more joyful it is to have opportunity to thank the men who teach us God’s Word week in and week out!

As an added bonus, it will certainly bring more joy to their responsibility when they know their labors are helpful to and appreciated by their congregation.

happily being with christians

photo-1470549584009-d347338fc0ff

Earlier this year, I wrote about selfish fellowship– interaction that is merely looking out for one’s own best interest under the guise of actually caring for others. I had been around other Christians and it had discouraged me.  But now, after an incredibly refreshing weekend of fellowship with saints, it seemed fitting to again revisit the topic of fellowship- focusing on the positive side of it this time.

In all the effort of pressing forward in the Christian life there is a calm and quiet sweetness in fellowship. When fellowship was no longer about meeting a lot of people and all about talking to other Christians, it wasn’t hard. We bowed our heads together in prayer and spoke with the Lord about the burdens that weigh us down. We asked for the grace and strength we need to keep going. We want to finish this race well!  We sat around a campfire discussing the state of our hearts in light of the goodness of God. Fellowship doesn’t all have to be looking for really deep conversations; it can be peaceful and quiet.

Let your fellowship serve others and it will certainly serve you. This seems to be the idea the Apostle Paul had when he wrote to the Roman church: “I long to see you that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.” This is primarily what I needed to learn about fellowship when I found myself discouraged: seek fellowship for the sake of others.

Fellowship is necessary. It magnifies the Lord as we experience the unity and holiness He bought for us. Fellowship also gives us encouragement to keep from growing weary in doing good. Every day in the Christian life is one of pressing on, taking heed that we do not drift, and God knew we would need encouragement along the way. God wants us to fellowship. God made fellowship. The dear Christians I see multiple times weekly, the local church, exist in my life because God made us need each other. It’s not “I have to go to church” but “I get to be with Christians!” We don’t  fellowship just because we feel like it (and then stop when we don’t feel like it anymore) but because God necessitated that privilege in our lives.

Of course, we can’t always be around all the Christians we meet. Some of us had to say “goodbye until we meet again,” and others I see all the time in the local church. Either way, through the grace of God we will all spend an eternity together. This time we wondered together over heaven and eternity, and one day we’ll actually be there.

Man may be born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward, but there is a rich sweetness in sharing fellowship along the way- through the church, through dear Christian friends we just met, and maybe through sitting at a campfire watching those sparks fly. Because of Christ, we also get to be with Christians- what a happy thing!

there’s nothing like a morning

photo-1421986872218-300a0fea5895

Morning is a beautiful time of day. The sun pushes through the nighttime sky, rising in a brilliant array of colors. The world seems to wake up slowly and quietly- just the way it should- and with a surprising freshness.

In spite of all this, rising early is difficult for some people. Personally I’ve declared, “I’m not a morning person” more times than I can count, but something seemed amiss with this saying. I didn’t want to get up early; but when it came down to it, I needed to.  I need to seek God in the morning. While there are many reasons for rising early, these three consistently motivate me toward making the most of each morning.

I need an anchor for the unpredictable

When a new day begins, we never know how it will turn out. Every single day contains surprises that couldn’t have been expected the night before, ranging from good to bad, insignificant to huge. Sometimes it’s our own mindset or feelings that change the tone of the day- other times it’s the people we interact with or situations completely outside our control. The amount of variables contained in a single day are innumerable.

In the face of an enemy who prowls like a roaring lion, it is imperative to stand firm; and yet it can be difficult with so much unpredictability.  “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.” That is the kind of anchor I need, the truth necessary to unshakably stand through life’s hardest or best days.

I need to realign my heart towards God’s Will

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’- yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15)

Lord willing is ingrained in our vocabulary, but how often into our living? Time seeking God in the morning is the perfect situation to prepare myself to say and live Lord willing. Before I even have plans, before I’m met with the surprises of the day, the morning gives me opportunity to submit myself again to God, realigning my desires to long for His will.

I need to be satisfied in God 

Not only am I physically hungry in the mornings but my soul is hungry.  From the moment we wake up in the morning, we’re going to start satisfying ourselves with something. Maybe it’s quiet moments in bed, maybe it’s the social media feed, breakfast, family, or so many other things. Not a single one of those can truly satisfy a hungry soul, but so often they temptingly convince that they can.

Before there is the chance for anything else to satisfy my hunger, the best choice I can make is to go to God equipped with His promises:”Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Here’s the simple, plainest truth of it: I need God before and much more than anything else. The morning is perfect for living that out.

Granted, I still like my mornings to start slow, aided by an alarm ringing “Be Still My Soul,” a steaming cup of coffee, and quiet solitude. But for this “non-morning-person,” the morning is an incredibly edifying, refreshing time of day.

 

ahaziah’s fifty-one servants

child-945422_960_720

There was once a wicked king in Israel named Ahaziah, and although his nation was God’s chosen people, the God of Israel was far from his mind.

“Go, inquire of Baal-zebub the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this sickness,” he instructed his messengers when a time came that he finally felt a need of god.

But while Ahaziah was looking the other way, the God of Israel was far from helpless. Through His faithful messenger Elijah, the true God sent an unsolicited message back to the king. “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Now therefore thus says the LORD, you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.”

While the word of the Lord promised nothing good to Ahaziah, the king still had reason to give thanks: though he had forgotten God, God had not forgotten him. In fact, God was still speaking to him. But rather than pay attention to the God of Israel, the king turned his attention to Elijah—the messenger who brought these words of destruction.

At the king’s command, a captain in Israel accompanied by fifty men located Elijah. “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down,’” they commanded confidently.

Elijah replied with equal confidence. “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” At his word it was so.

Another fifty-one from the army of Israel arrived before Elijah with the same message and met the same fate. A third group of fifty-one arrived, ready to bring the casualties that day to a total of 153.

This captain, however, had a different concern on the forefront of his mind when he located Elijah. Falling on his knees before the prophet, he pleaded. “O man of God, please let my life and the life of these fifty servants of yours be precious in your sight. Behold, fire came down from heaven and consumed the two former captains of fifty men with their fifties, but now let my life be precious in your sight.

That day there were fifty-one men who lived instead of dying.

Why did fifty-one servants of a wicked king live that day? Because the God of Israel is not impressed with displays of power, not intimidated by large numbers, or threatened by wicked kings but gives grace to the humble.

It took one person replacing confidence with humility to intercede for fifty-one people. It took one person falling to their knees, begging for mercy to see fifty-one lives spared. It took one person confessing helplessness for fifty-one lives to be precious in God’s sight.

If God cannot, does not change, then let’s consider this:

Fifty-one servants of the wicked king Ahaziah lived on a day they would have died because one man got down on his knees and humbly asked for mercy. God, true to His character and word, looked favorably on that humility and delighted to grant the request; as a result, mercy came to many.

Do we see people in need of mercy? Do we see lives ready to die? Do we see a great God promising grace to the humble? Do we see a Savior who died for sinners? Then now is a time to be on our knees humbling pleading for sinners to be precious in the sight of God.

(Story of Ahaziah found in 2 Kings 1.)

what is art?

photo-1433574466251-fe1be0d9b3d2I was excited to have the chance this week to share another guest post on my brother’s blog! (If you haven’t already subscribed to his blog, now would be a great time to do so!) I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I used the opportunity to talk about art again.

Several months back, I took some time to answer a significant question: is art important? From the Word of God, the conclusion was a resounding YES. But while art may be important, one crucial question remains unanswered. What is art after all?

Art has multiple aspects which make it appear at first glance to be a difficult field to define. Add to that the twisted definitions of our culture, and art now indicates a wide array of things to our society—ranging from the fine arts of the masters to things so deluded we would be ashamed even to see them. Thankfully, as the Bible affirms to us that art is important, it also guides us to a clear understanding of what art actually is.

Click here to continue reading. 

 

 

what can wash away my sin?

Having done professional housecleaning for a several years now, I’ve learned a few lessons, not least of which is: Cleaning products and rags are expendableThey don’t cost much and while they serve a vital role in the cleaning process, they aren’t precious to me at all.

Around our own house, rags are often made from discarded T-shirts and stained towels. These are the items no one wants anymore. They’ve already lived their life, served their purpose, and are only a step away from being thrown in the trash can. Nobody even enjoys the job of folding rags because they’re rags. 

If I showed up at one of my clients’ homes with diamonds and perfume to scrub down the bathroom, they wouldn’t say they hired the best house cleaner in town. Perhaps the richest, but also definitely the most foolish. Think of the utter absurdity of it! Diamonds and perfume? Those items are much too valuable, too precious, to expend on cleaning! I can buy more rags and cleaners at Walmart, but diamonds come from the Jeweler and perfume is for special occasions.

So, when I sang “Jesus Paid it All” early one morning in prayer, I stopped short at this line:

I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

“Wait,” I thought. “Washing in the blood of Jesus?” Washing and cleaning is done with unloved rags and expendable cleaners, and here I am singing of washing in Jesus’ blood. The thought shocked me right then and there. The blood of Jesus must be much too precious to wash in, far surpassing diamonds and perfume, more valuable than the finest silver and gold.

It is undeniably true: there is nothing more precious than the blood of Christ- nothing more worthy, sacred, valuable, perfect, limited. And all the while, that very blood is the one thing that will wash away the deep filthy sin which clings to mankind by our own choice.

Would you be clean? Then wash in the blood of Jesus. God has made it possible; Jesus has offered it up freely in His love. That sacred, costly cleanser is available for the guiltiest, dirtiest sinner who comes.

“Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” -1 Peter 1:18-19

Let the words shock and thrill and cause our hearts to tremble all in the same moment.

Blood of Jesus