Breaking the Enchantment

This world is NOT our home. We may know that theologically, but everything around us tries to convince us that we are living in the real world and anything beyond this world is vague, fuzzy, and insubstantial. It is, in fact, other-worldly…which is to say un-real, merely a figment of our imagination.

But Scripture tells us that the opposite is true–the things we enjoy and celebrate on this earth are only “a shadow of thshadow Jonathane things to come,” but in contrast “the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:17) “Now we see in a mirror dimly” (I Cor. 13:12) but one day the veil will be lifted and we will see “face to face”. Now we reside in a temporal, fragile “tent” but there is an eternal “house…in the heavens” which will one day be ours (2 Cor. 5:1). Rather than being ethereal and vague, heaven actually has more weight, more substance, more reality than all that we can see and touch on this earth. There is a “weight of glory” that awaits us, which supersedes the “light and momentary” things of this earth (2 Cor. 4:17).

God has placed within each of His children a deep longing for our true home, and when we quiet the noise of our incessant strivings to gain more of this world, that longing begins to surface more and more. This is how C.S. Lewis describes it (in his sermon appropriately titled “The Weight of Glory”):

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter…. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.

There IS more. This world is NOT our home. If you belong to Christ, then let your heart sing with the hope and anticipation of a glory and a home that is even more real and substantial than all that we can see here and now!

Biblical People-Pleasing

Is it Biblical to please people? In most Christian circles, “people-pleasing” is frowned upon as essentially idolatry–valuing praise from people more than praise from God, and fearing man instead of fearing God. And certainly that is true: when my concern about what someone thinks of me (good or bad) keeps me from obeying Christ, or when my worth and confidence is built on what others say about me rather than on what God says, then that is ungodly people-pleasing.

But Romans 15:1-3 says:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”

Verse 2 clearly tells us that we are to please our neighbor for his good, in order to build him up. What makes this different from idolatrous people-pleasing is that this is for the good of the other person, and not for our own good. Verse 1 makes it clear that our obligation is “not to please ourselves,” and verse 3 points us to Christ as the example of one who “did not please Himself.” Therefore ungodly people-pleasing is idolatrous not because other people are pleased but because our goal is essentially to please ourselves. (In that sense, the term “people-pleasing” is really a misnomer, because it is more about pleasing self than it is about pleasing others.)

In the verses immediately prior to this passage, Paul is instructing stronger believers not to despise those who are weaker, and likewise those believers who are weaker in certain areas are not to cast judgment on those who are stronger. So these first few verses of chapter 15 act as a summary statement of the arguments that Paul has just made. The summary admonition is that those who are stronger in their faith have an obligation to bear with the failings of those weaker than them. Therefore Godly people-pleasing is just that: bearing with those who are weaker, for their sake.

Our obligation is NOT to please ourselves by condemning someone else’s weakness (and thereby elevating our own supposed strength). Our obligation is NOT to please ourselves by demanding immediate change in another person and then shunning them when that change doesn’t come as fast as we think it should. Our obligation is NOT to please ourselves by assuming that our way is best and that we can learn nothing from that other person.

Rather, our obligation is to bear with them, even in their failings. Notice that the word “failings” is plural–it means multiple failures, many weaknesses, much that needs to change. That is what we are obligated to bear with. And that is how we are to please people in a Godly way–by bearing with failure and weakness and imperfections, rather than condemning and despising. And Christ is our perfect example in that: He was stronger and more mature and more complete than any other person who has ever walked this earth, yet He bore with the weaknesses and failures of those around Him, even to the point of taking their reproach upon Himself. Even now, Christ bears with us in our constant failings and weakness and immaturity, though He has every right to please Himself by wiping us off the face of the earth.

I’ve been chewing on this passage this week and it has been an especially challenging truth for me because I have a daughter in my home whose mind is very weak and who cannot think and reason and learn “typically”, and I am struggling to bear with her. I am not treating her with the same forbearance and grace that Christ gives to me every day. And yet that is my obligation, not for my sake, but for hers. Jesus, I need You…

Eufunctional Idols

I suppose it’s not too common to quote an author’s footnote (I’m not sure if I’ve ever done that before), but a line from a detailed footnote in an article I was reading really grabbed my attention. The article is by David Powlison, called Idols of the Heart and “Vanity Fair”. In it, Powlison accurately diagnoses both the inner (heart) idolatries and the “false masters and value systems” of our world, “which we tend to absorb automatically,” and from which only Christ can deliver and save us. Therefore, truly Christian counseling–counseling with Christ at the center–“is counseling which exposes our motives–our hearts and our world–in such a way that the authentic Gospel is the only possible answer.”

The footnote that caught my attention is this:

It is obvious that if idolatry is the problem of the “co-dependent,” then repentant faith in Christ is the solution… The literature [of co-dependency, Christian or not] may even use “idolatry” as a metaphor, without meaning “idolatry against God, therefore repentance.” The solution, without exception, is to offer different and presumably more workable idols, rather than repentance unto the Bible’s Christ! Secularistic therapies teach people eufunctional idols, idols which do “work” for people and “bless” them with temporarily happy lives (Psalm 73).

Therapy systems without repentance at their core leave the idol system intact. They simply rehabilitate and rebuild fundamental godlessness to function more successfully.

The Bible’s idolatry motif diagnoses the ultimately self-destructive basis on which happy, healthy, and confident people build their lives (eufunctional idols), just as perceptively as it diagnoses unhappy people, who are more obviously and immediately self-destructive (dysfunctional idols).

What stood out to me in this is that repentance must be at the core of any significant change. I have read much about co-dependency and struggled to break free from that by learning different patterns of relating, but I have not learned repentance. Confession has been a discipline that I have been trying to incorporate into my life for years, with minimal success. Admitting wrong and seeking forgiveness from those closest to me is not a regular occurrence. Could it be that I am doing the very thing Powlison is writing about here–self-righteously trading my dysfunctional idols for eufunctional (well-functioning) idols, rather than humbly seeking Christ’s deliverance from those idols through repentance? I need Jesus…not only because life is hard, but because my heart is so easily led astray by my idolatrous attempts to save myself.

The Most Powerful Thing We Can Say

Romans 12:12 gives three short commands–the second one is “Be patient in tribulation.”

In the description of love that we find in I Corinthians 13, the first adjective it uses is patience: “Love is patient. Love is kind.” An older English synonym for patience is “long-suffering.” One translation I’ve seen for that first phrase is “Love suffers long and is still kind.” That is what it means to be patient—to suffer long and still be kind.

Patience is hard—and perhaps especially so in this instant culture in which we live. Yet God commands us to be patient. And what specifically are we to be patient in? We are to “be patient in tribulation.” So this is not just patience while waiting in line at Disneyland for the ride we really want to go on; but this is patience while explaining a simple task to your child for the 47th time, this is patience while pursuing reconciliation with a spouse who is angry with you, this is patience to respond graciously to a co-worker who continually aggravates you, this is patience on the long road of chemotherapy when the prognosis is not favorable. This is patience in the midst of tribulation, in the midst of suffering.

Ed Welch, a counselor and writer with CCEF (Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation), in his brand new book Side by Side, writes this:

Suffering feels like our biggest problem and avoiding it like our greatest need—but we know that there is something more. Sin is actually our biggest problem, and rescue from it is our greatest need.

There is a link between the two. Suffering exposes the sin in our hearts in a way that few things can. When our lives are trouble-free, we can confuse personal satisfaction for faith. We can think that God is good, and we are pleased with him, though we might be pleased less with him than we are with the ease of our lives. Then, when life is hard—especially when life remains hard—the allegiances of our hearts become more apparent. Suffering will reveal sin that still “clings so closely” to us (Heb. 12:1)…

Suffering is an indispensable tool that God uses to reveal and weed out sin in our hearts, so as we obey this command to be patient in suffering, God purifies our hearts and deepens our relationship with Christ. We don’t like to think of suffering as vital to our growth in Christ, but for this reason, it is. Jesus said “Blessed are the pure in heart…” and if suffering is a primary means by which God purifies our hearts, then there is actually great blessing in any suffering that causes us to see the weight of our sin and cling more tightly to the Gospel of Christ.

Ed Welch continues: “Seeing the weight of our sin is the beginning of power and confidence.”

When we see our sin, we are seeing the Spirit’s conviction, which means we are witnessing spiritual power, but that power feels different from what we expect. It’s not like worldly power. Spiritual power feels like a struggle, or weakness, or neediness, or desperation. It is simply, “I need Jesus,” which is the most powerful thing we can say. It means that our confidence is not in ourselves or in either our righteousness before God or our reputation before others. Our confidence is in Jesus, and that confidence cannot be shaken. Just imagine: no more hiding from God, no more defensiveness in our relationships. When we have wronged others, we simply ask their forgiveness. Our security in Jesus gives us the opportunity to think less often about what others think of us. It gives us freedom to make mistakes and even fail. No longer do we have to build and protect our own kingdom.

Wow! What a liberating perspective! “I need Jesus” is the most powerful thing we can say. So often, saying that feels like weakness or failure or inability, but it is not. It is spiritual power–not because we are powerful, but because the One on whom we’re depending is unmatched in power.

Beautiful Oregon

Whenever people ask me if I miss Oregon, this is what I’m picturing when I say IMG_0378Yes! I miss driving up the Historic Columbia River Highway through the gorge, with the green canopy of trees overhead and the sunlight filtering through. I miss hiking around all the waterfalls, feeling the breeze and the cool spray on my face as the mist from the falling water fills the air. I miss being able to inhale deeply the fresh clean air, and smell the scent of pine needles and water and damp earth.

If the amazingIMG_0374 beauty that is found onIMG_0380 this sin-broken, human-polluted earth is only a dim reflection of the new heavens and new earth that God will one day bring about, then I can hardly wait to stroll down the New Columbia River Highway with the One who brought all this into being and experience just a glimpse of His infinite glory and beautIMG_0394y! IMG_0388

Size Differentiation

I’m up in Portland, Oregon, visiting my parents in the home I grew up in. It’s always intriguing to me how places that seemed so large as a child, or distances that seemed so long, now seem so much smaller or shorter. After living in Southern California for so long, where it took me almost 2 hours to drive from my home to the airport (in a lot of traffic) this morning, then the 15 minute ride from the Portland airport to my parents’ home (in a little bit of traffic) felt really short. But growing up, going to the airport was “a long ride”. My siblings and I used to play all kinds of games in our “huge” backyard when we were kids, but walking around out there this afternoon, it looked somehow different and not like the “vast land of adventure” that I remember.

Why is that? What changes in my perspective that makes all these familiar places seem smaller or different? It’s not that they are actually smaller, but perhaps my world has gotten larger and therefore some things don’t seem as big as they once felt.

But if that’s true, then it must work the other way also. As I grow in relationship with God and realize more and more of my limitations and weakness and sin, He becomes increasingly “larger.”

That was Lucy’s experience also, in Prince Caspian, one of the Chronicles of Narnia.

A circle of grass, smooth as a lawn, met her eyes, with dark trees dancing all round it. And then—oh joy! For He was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight, with his huge black shadow underneath him.

But for the movement of his tail he might have been a stone lion, but Lucy never thought of that. She never stopped to think whether he was a friendly lion or not. She rushed to him. She felt her heart would burst if she lost a moment. And the next thing she knew was that she was kissing him and putting her arms as far round his neck as she could and burying her face in the beautiful rich silkiness of his mane.

“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

“Welcome, child,” he said.

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke…

May you also find God bigger and bigger as His greatness satisfies your heart more and more each day.