Categories
Life

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn 2017

If you’ve paid close attention, the last few posts here have been related to lament. That’s mostly because I gave a seminar (earlier today) on that topic at our Cru Winter Conference in Denver.

Another reason—for the recent posts and my interest in giving the seminar—is that much of this past year was lamentable for us. Our family lost much. Of course, with loss comes unique opportunity for gain. And we have gained. But make no mistake, the losses are real. And they hurt.

As I type this, I’m sitting on the fourth floor of the Hyatt Regency in downtown Denver. Fifteenth Street is lined with headlights. Oddly dressed co-eds are pouring into the Convention Center ready to drink a cup (or two) of kindness and cheer. Most, of course, while enjoying the last hours of 2017 are wishing, hoping, longing, that 2018 will be just a bit better.

Perhaps you are, too.

Why? Christian or not, you realize this world is broken. You know, deep down, you are broken. No matter what you encountered in the past year, I’m willing to bet you have reason to mourn something. Unfortunately, turning the clock over to 2018 doesn’t remove the losses and hurts you’ve experienced.

For those of us who are Christians, we have a unique way to deal with this. We call it lament. To lament means to pour out our pain and complaint to God, asking him to make things right—because things in this world (and my life) aren’t as I’d like them to be. If you aren’t a Christian, know that God is more than sufficient to handle your complaints. In fact, it’s during the times of loss and lament that great men and women of faith are made.

So we lament, we mourn. Jesus told us as much. He said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:4).

What are we to mourn? My sin—against my wife, my children, my friends, public and private, things done and undone. Sin committed against me—unjust attack or blame, slander, mocking. Affliction that comes from living in a fallen world—cancer, infertility, mental illness, car accidents, hurricanes. Sin and brokenness all around us—abuse, war, racial inequity, famine, genocide, abortion. The list goes on.

The King of the universe tells me, “Be sad!” because not all is as it should be. Even he wept. One of his names is, gloriously, “The Man of Sorrows.” Chew on that.

And how are we comforted? Not with answers. Among the great cry of complaints in the book of Psalms, the solution is never “Oh! God fixed my situation.” No, he tends to do one better: he shows up. His Presence is the fix. And the response sounds like this, “You are my portion and my cup.” “You alone are my refuge.” “You are my dwelling place.”

Blessed are you who mourn, for you shall be comforted. Not with clever solutions, but with the Presence you most need.

We are guaranteed this Presence, in the midst of all our losses, because Jesus, the one who is God’s Presence, lost the Presence of his Father on the cross. All who trust in Jesus now have God’s presence by his Holy Spirit, whom he has given to live in us. Even when I feel alone amidst loss, I’m not alone.

And, ultimately, we are promised that at the end of history, not the end of a calendar year, Jesus will return to this earth to undo all the sad things, wipe away our tears, and make all things new. On that day, we will see Jesus’ face. We will actually be with him.

In all of my family’s sorrow and losses over the past year, the resounding lesson God is pressing into my soul is this: God’s Presence is enough. If I have him, what else do I need?  He often (always?) strips away everything we long for and love to get us to this point. And it hurts. But the reward is more refreshing than we could have ever imagined.

So here’s to 2018. I’m tempted to hope for something better. Instead, perhaps for the first time, I’m expecting the new year to bring losses and hurts—it’s part of the deal. At the same time, however, I’m expecting a far greater gain: the very Presence of God himself, both now and forevermore.

What about you?

Categories
Theology

How Did St. Augustine Get Saved?

St. Augustine of Hippo is a giant of the faith. He was monumental in helping the church establish a doctrine of grace against Pelagianism.  He also wrote many influential works, the two most famous being Confessions (his spiritual autobiography) and City of God. The story of how he came to Christ is marvelous and encouraging to all who are longing for true rest.

Augustine’s life can be characterized as a search for joy. His main pursuit was carnal pleasure, which left him empty. Augustine reflected on his search, “I did not ask for more certain proof of you, but only to be made more steadfast in you.”[1] Augustine did not want a water-tight argument for Christianity. He wanted a water-tight Person who would promise and deliver true joy.

His pursuit led him to sexual promiscuity. Aside from some very wild teen years, he lived with one woman (whom he never names) for a long time, though they never married. He admits that this experience helped him discover the difference between a marriage covenant with the purpose of raising Christian children and a “bargain struck for lust.”[2]

In search of deliverance from this lust, Augustine sought out his friend Simplicianus. Simplicianus told him the conversion story of Victorinus. Augustine remarks that the story “shows the great glory of your grace.”[3] Most likely, Augustine meant that the story shows God’s grace in Victorinus’ life, but also how God used it to change his own life.

When Augustine heard of Victorinus’ public profession, he “began to glow with fervor to imitate him,” which was precisely why Simplicianus told the story in the first place.[4] Mere imitation cannot change a heart, but what transpired after this encounter was that Augustine increasingly realized his depravity and need for a Redeemer.

Augustine describes his conversion in terms of being “released…from the fetters of lust.”[5] Another story brought that about. One day with his friend Alypius, Augustine was visited by a fellow-African named Ponticianus. Just like Simplicianus, Ponticianus shared a story with Augustine: this one about release from the world through monastic living.

Augustine realized God was using Ponticianus’ story to help him see “how sordid…how deformed and squalid” his heart was.[6] But Augustine prayed, “Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”[7] The Holy Spirit overcame such resistance and God drew Augustine to Christ. After Ponticianus left, Augustine was in the spiritual birth canal, as it were: “I was beside myself with madness that would bring me sanity,” Augustine wrote. “I was dying a death that would bring me life.”[8]

Augustine’s self-understanding heightened as he wrestled with his desire for holiness and carnal pleasure.[9] After a physical assault on his own body,[10] he isolated himself from Alypius and asked his soul, ‘How long shall I go on saying, ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?”[11]

As Augustine surrendered, he heard a voice saying, “Take it and read!” He returned to Alypius where Paul’s letters lay on the table. He read Romans 13:13-14 and embraced the call to clothe himself with Christ. Augustine wrote, “You converted me to yourself, so that I no longer desired a wife or placed any hope in this world.”

Who saved Augustine? God did. But he did not use not water-tight, rational arguments to save Augustine. God used two stories that exposed Augustine’s desire for worldly pleasure and showed the glorious, eternal joy available when God is the object of pleasure.


[1] Augustine Confessions 8.1.
[2] Ibid., 4.2.
[3] Ibid., 8.2.
[4] Ibid., 8.5.
[5] Ibid., 8.6.
[6] Ibid., 8.7.
[7] Ibid., 8.7.
[8] Ibid., 8.8.
[9] In 8.9-10, Augustine enters into a fascinating reflection on the nature of the will.
[10] Ibid., 8.8.
[11] Ibid., 8.12.

Categories
Life

What if obedience doesn’t give me joy?

Oftentimes in the Christian life, we do not want to do something even though it is the right thing to do. It may be something that causes us to be uncomfortable or particularly humbled or work in an area of weakness. We simply do it because we know we are “obeying God,” even though it does not give us joy. I experience this. Some might answer this problem with, “Don’t do it if your heart isn’t right. After all, God cares more about your heart!” Others might say, “Just keep obeying. You’ll have joy in heaven.”  Neither of those help me, and I doubt they help you.

At the risk of oversimplifying, this might help. Obey until you have joy, then keep obeying. I do not believe that joy is only reserved for the next life, and I also believe God cares about heart-level obedience that manifests itself in external ways. Jesus prayed, “I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).  But he also said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). These are not at odds.

If you continue to obey, plead with God for your heart motivation to change and to experience true joy. I believe God will soften your heart. If you disobey, your heart motivation will not change, no joy will come from disobedience, and your heart can only harden more.

True joy lies in humility and insignificance. Remember the words of our Lord Jesus, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and the Apostle Paul, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Categories
Life Theology

A Colloquy on Rejoicing

What drew me to post this whole prayer was the single line: “For whatever a man trusts in, from that he expects happiness.” (By the way, a “colloquy” is a conversation or discussion.)

Remember, O My Soul,
It is thy duty and privilege to rejoice in God:
He requires it of thee for all his favours of grace.
Rejoice then in the Giver and his goodness,
Be happy in him, O my heart, and in nothing but God,
for whatever a man trusts in,
from that he expects happiness.

He who is the ground of thy faith
should be the substance of thy joy.
Whence then come heaviness and dejection,
when joy is sown in thee,
promised by the Father,
bestowed by the Son,
inwrought by the Holy Spirit,
thine by grace,
thy birthright in believing?

Art thou seeking to rejoice in thyself
from an evil motive of pride and self-reputation?
Thou hast nothing of thine own but sin,
nothing to move God to be gracious,
or to continue his grace towards thee.
If thou forget this thou wilt lose thy joy.
Art thou grieving under a sense of indwelling sin?
Let godly sorrow work repentance,
as the true spirit which the Lord blesses,
and which creates fullest joy;
Sorrow for self opens rejoicing in God,
Self-loathing draws down divine delights.
Hast thou sought joys in some creature comfort?
Look not below God for happiness;
fall not asleep in Delilah’s lap.
Let God be all in all to thee,
and joy in the fountain that is always full.

The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Categories
Life

We Have A Daughter

Maybe one day, when my daughter is all grown up and ready to leave my home, I will wake up from this surreal moment and realize what I witnessed today.

Life. Nine ounces of life, to be exact.

A brain thinking and dreaming. A mouth sucking on a miniature thumb. Ears hearing my (mumbled) voice. A dime-sized heart steam-rolling along at 131 beats per minute. A spine housing a spinal cord which directs her herky-jerky movements.  Lungs expanding and collapsing each millisecond.  A hand giving her cheek a pillow to rest. A stomach filling and emptying on cue when she’s full.  Legs crossed like mine in my chair right now.  Feet kicking my wife’s tummy all day long.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. (Ps. 139:13-16)

Intricately woven. Knitted together. Made in secret. Fearfully and wonderfully made.

Yes, Lord. Let it be so. Be with this girl even now, and do the great and mysterious work of drawing her to your Son, so that one day she might know him as Creator, Lord, Savior, and Treasure.

And to you, O beloved princess of ours, to say that your mother and I are excited to meet you would be a mighty understatement. We anticipate that day with longing. Still, we cherish you in our eyes, yet have never seen you face-to-face. We hold you dear, yet have never embraced you skin-to-skin. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. And you are beautiful.