Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I Asked The Lord That I Might Grow by John Newton

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Spirituality of the Not-Yet

“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together…
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the
Firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait…
The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings
Too deep for words.”
~Romans 8:22,23, 26~

There is a piercing kind of pain that only those who belong to Christ know; it is an agony that is sharp as a sword “dividing soul and spirit.” It might perhaps be called anxiety if anxiety could be a godly disposition; it is the anxiety of the adopted sons of God who are temporally separated from their loving Father. His love is not always immediately present to the soul, nor is His manifest presence always experienced as pleasure (see Isaiah 6). Saint Paul said it was a groaning, the deepest sort of hunger longing to be satisfied. Only the saints know this hunger because only the saints have been given a hunger for God. It is a pang that the saint gradually comes to realize will not be satisfied even by the most ecstatic of earthly experiences. George Ladd, the evangelical theologian, brought into common parlance the term “already but not yet” in referring to the kingdom as described in the Gospels of Jesus Christ. If his articulation of this tension is accurate (which I believe it is), then this theological notion has profound implications regarding Christian spirituality. The saint then will experience, and often in a penetrating, not-of-this-world sort of way, the not-yet.
Throughout the history of the church this groaning has been expressed in a number of ways. Many have looked to the Beatitudes as Jesus’ faithful articulation of this tension. Perhaps what is most jolting about the Beatitudes is that the blessedness of the mourning, the meek, the hungry and thirsty for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers, is a blessedness that will be but is not yet. The will be carves out vast caverns of longing, expectation, and hunger with the promise of being filled… but not yet. It is a hunger for the transcendent joy that is in Tolkien’s words “beyond the walls of the world.” This appetite is articulated by Kierkegaard and is immensely helpful, “that is what my soul longs after [the deeper significance of Christianity], as the African desert thirsts for water. That is what I lack, and that is why I am left standing like a man who has rented a house and gathered all the furniture and household things together, but has not yet found the beloved with whom to share the joys and sorrows of his life.” We can also see more popular expressions of this in U2’s famous song off of Joshua Tree;

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still runnin.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it

But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for

We are not without those among us who have felt this, for it is the experience of all true saints who groan for their adoptions as sons.
There must be some clarification at this point; first the spirituality of the not-yet is often painful and no amount of cleverness, distraction, or denial can alleviate the pain. The temptation is often, when the darkness of this experience comes, to “figure it out,” or to watch television, or work harder, or just flat out deny the experience. Although at times, down right agonizing, the not-yet is a gift from God. He gives it to His beloved children to so that they would know that there is an appetite in their soul that cannot be filled by anything on the created order; this means that it is preparatory for love. The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. This gift prepares the saint to love God in that manner, to fulfill a command it could not without divine enablement. Though the pains are agonizing, they inform the soul of its need for the Living God and urge it to move toward Him in love.
Second the spirituality of the not yet is deeply mysterious. This is incredibly important, yet simultaneously incredibly difficult to understand. There are two distinctions that need to be made; first the mysteriousness signifies a hiddeness, and second the mysteriousness signifies a special kind of gift. The hiddeness of this spirituality is that the pains cannot be adequately expressed in words. This means that often the saints experience will be unknown to many, save for those who understand it themselves and who say nothing of it, save a knowing gaze (think here of Frodo and Sam after they have destroyed the ring of power, none know the pains they have experienced and those pains cannot be faithfully expressed to the others in the fellowship). The mysteriousness of the not-yet is also a gift, because it is a special language between the soul and God. Just as Sam could not fully comprehend Frodo’s burden, so we also cannot fully comprehend each others. It is a secret and hidden hunger that only God and the soul know and no others are privy to this language, for even if it were to be expressed it would not be understood. God knows the longings of the soul because He gave them to the soul in the beginning.
A few closing exhortations as to how to live in light of the not-yet. It is best, and most difficult, to open to the groanings of the heart. Giving oneself to prayer by opening the heart to God in the midst of the emptiness is the only place to turn. The hunger is for God, so go to God… though perhaps you will not experience the hunger joyfully, they are hunger pains after all. Second, I will let C.S. Lewis, speaking through the demon Uncle Screwtape, instruct us on where to go, as he so often does:
“Sooner or later he withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs – to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish…He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away his hand… Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our enemy’s [God] will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
Let us then live in the light of the not-yet and long for the will be.

Monday, September 10, 2007

How Do You Kill A Dead Man... Or Overcoming the War on Terror

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death - that is the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." Hebrews 2:14-15
It struck me some time ago, though now I am just beginning to write about it, that the community of Jesus Christ is truly the only people who can win the War on Terror. We must ponder first the nature of the War, and especially the oddity of the phrase War on Terror. It is strange that we don't say The War on Terrorists or The War on Al Qaida or something of the like, but rather we are waging a war on terror itself it seems... at least according to this phrasing. If we were to be honest, the War on Terror if we wished to be consistent would be a total war, for to wage war on terror is to engage in a conflict that is trans-national, inter-continental, and global (or any other way you would like to say total). This war would mean discovering not only a way to liberate humanity from the scourge of terrorists, but liberate humanity from terror itself. In observing it in this manner, we would also discover that the War on Terror would be a war that must discover a means to rid terror from the human heart.
If we understand the War on Terror in terms of the human heart, it would mean not only removing the object of fear (such as terrorists, or natural disasters, or murderers, etc...) but discovering and somehow eliminating the subjective heart of fear. What is the internal reasoning or rationale for fear (read - terror)? Is there something intrinsically terrifying about suicide bombers, or is there something the suicide bomber knows intrinsically (albeit unconsciously) about the human heart that gives him power, that merits him the title of terrorist? Is there an inherent terror that resides in the human heart, that lies dormant until provoked by danger or threat? Is the response of terror to the terrorist inordinate, i.e. is the terror greater than the threat?
The proud American heart pacified (or perhaps tranquilized) by its creature comforts has lived without a sense of dread, but when that dread is awakened, it also seems to awaken great wrath. Dread is a dreadful thing to live with, and we would prefer to sleep in a slumber of tranquility, though perhaps it is an ignorant tranquility or a naivete. This wrath moves quickly against the objects of fear (as does any creature that is afraid), but I fear moves blindly. The American people have not stopped to ask the question, why am I afraid to die? What truly is being threatened by these terrorists? It seems to me that what is manifestly true is that a way of life is being threatened (no controversy here). But why are we so terrified of losing that way of life? I believe that to lose that way of life causes us to confront our most basic reality, a reality described by Jean-Paul Sartre in which we are "rejected, abandoned by our very nature in an indifferent, hostile, and stubborn world." We would prefer to remain in our slumber of luxury, than be woken up the nightmare that our lives truly are.
The Scriptures put this reality of a hostile world in these terms, "the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men (Romans 1:18)." To be awoken to the nightmare that heaven is against us in our wickedness, that our basic existential disposition is toward a cosmos that is continually telling us that it is hostile to us. Sartre did not need the Scriptures to tell him this, all he had to do was to observe the world and his own experience to discover this truth. Humankind, whether we articulate it or not, is absolutely petrified of the wrath of God as revealed to their conscious experience of the cosmos. We will build whole cultures so as not to experience the cosmos as against us. Our American culture is perhaps the most successful in human history at creating a way of life that enables man to evade this most basic reality. Yet we cannot evade it completely, we are not impervious. The terrorists, although wicked and evil, are messengers, harbingers of doom. They bear witness to what in our worst nightmares is true, all that is is against me... omnipotently against me. And that is the heart of terror.
Terror is not the end of the story. Terrorists have already lost the war. Terror is no longer terrifying... to those who have already died. The dead fear nothing for they have lost everything. There is no way of life to protect, no possessions to secure, no community to defend, for all has been lost. Terror is the experience of the living, but not the dead. The dead have faced the wrath of God. To be clear, there are two types of dead. There are the dead who ever die but ever wish for death (see Keirkegaard's The Sickness Unto Death), and there are the dead who died and now live. It is the latter whom have overcome and are victorious, the former are the defeated. The dead who died and now live are not zombies, they are the resurrected, the living ones... the holy ones... the saints. The zombies are the dead who ever die yet ever wish for death, they are the sons of disobedience, the sons of wrath.
The saints who have died and yet live, these overcomers, these who are more than conquerers are those who will overcome the terrorists. The community of holy ones who have lost all things for the sake of Jesus Christ, who have been buried with Christ, are those for whom there is nothing to fear. For just as they were buried with Christ, they will be raised with Him (see Romans 6). For these there is no longer any fear of death, there is no fear for who can bring a charge against God's elect... If God is for us who can be against us? The wrath of God being revealed from heaven was propitiated by the eternal Son of God on the cross. The cosmos is no longer against those who have died with Christ. For these to live is Christ and to die is gain.
What threat can a terrorist bring against those whose way of life has already been lost? What fear can Al Qaida provoke if those it seeks to kill welcome death as gain? These holy ones have robbed the terrorists of their greatest weapon... terror. These saints are called to send wave after wave of souls to devour the bombs of fear and death with their eternal life. The indestructible life of Jesus Christ is the possession of his saints, this life will swallow up death, and thus the saying will come true "O Death where is your victory? O Death where is your sting?" These saints have not loved their lives, even unto death, and thus have both inherited the crown of life and have triumphed in the War on Terror. The War on Terror was overcome by Jesus Christ on the cross and His victory has become the victory of the saints. Terror is no more.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Francis Schaeffer on Hospitality

"Don't start with a big program. Don't suddenly think you can add to your church budget and begin. Start personally and start in your home. I dare you. I dare you in the name of Jesus Christ. Do what I am going to suggest. Begin by opening your home for community…
How many times in the past year have you risked having a drunk vomit on your carpeted floor? How in the world, then, can you talk about compassion and about community - about the church's job in the inner city?

L'Abri is costly. If you think what God has done here is easy, you don't understand. It's a costly business to have a sense of community. L'Abri cannot be explained merely by the clear doctrine that is preached; it cannot be explained by the fact that God has here been giving intellectual answers to intellectual questions. I think those two things are important, but L'Abri cannot be explained if you remove the third. And that is there has been some community here. And it has been costly.

In about the first three years of L'Abri all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs. Indeed once a whole curtain almost burned up from somebody smoking in our living room. Blacks came to our table. Orientals came to our table. Everybody came to our table. It couldn't happen any other way. Drugs came to our place. People vomited in our rooms, in the rooms of Chalet Les Melezes which was our home, and now in the rest of the chalets of L'Abri.

How many times has this happened to you? You see, you don't need a big program. You don't have to convince your session or board. All you have to do is open your home and begin. And there is no place in God's world where there are no people who will come and share a home as long as it is a real home."

Credits to Schaeffer for his obvious and convicting insight... Credits to Goodmanson.com for posting this quote originally.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


Loneliness is the silent death,
It creeps up on you
While you're unaware.
Tip-toes up your spine,
It's a dangerous drug
Twisting thoughts,
sinking like a lump in the throat.
It washes out vitality,
Emptying your heart,
All along unsuspecting.
Working, toiling, spinning,
You move throughout you're day
Til you lay your head on your pillow.
Yet it does not give way;
You have no substance,
Your only form is decay,
But a shadow in the silent death.

The Anti-Christ

On the brink of madness
Further and further I sink.
My mind is stirring,
Brewing and boiling.
It begins to melt
No; it evaporates
Vapor vanishing
Now I run...
And yet He chases.

I shall strike
My hammer to that spike.
I will flee that talisman,
Break free of His curse;
To the deep dark void,
Yes, to the night!

My life's the maiden
Wrought with iron.
Fists are bloody,
Eyes crimson red,
I rage!

He shall be slain
And I will reign.
I must rise,
He must fall.

I twist my lie,
Contort the truth,
I'm insane...
He is dead.

Finally rest, finally sleep,
Then He awoke,
Then He rose,
Now I am slain!