Where Unworthiness & Great Worth Meet

The final verse of a hymn sung by Keith and Kristyn Getty portrays a strikingly beautiful contrast:

Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed – my ransom paid
At the cross

The cross of Christ clearly establishes my unworthiness. Like all of mankind I was dead in my sin, completely incapable of knowing God or pleasing God–cross-at-hilltopand it was my sin that put Jesus on that cruel cross. Jesus did not suffer and die because I was worthy of His salvation, but He faced the wrath of God in my place out of His great love for me, even when I was dead in my sin.

But amazingly, the cross not only establishes my unworthiness, but at the very same time establishes my great worth. The fact that the sinless Son of God would bear shame and wrath and separation from His Father on my behalf places inestimable worth on me. It is not worth that I have somehow earned or gained, but worth that is bestowed because of the incalculable cost that Jesus paid to make me His own.

Unworthiness and great worth meet at the cross. There the ransom for my unworthiness is paid, and there–through that ransom–my worth is established. Lyricist Graham Kendrick says of this hymn:

We need to sing about our worth from God’s perspective, not ours or our cultures, and God’s perspective centres in on the cross.



The Dentist’s Perspective

This morning I took my daughter Anah to her regular 6-month appointment at the dentist. They took x-rays of her mouth, cleaned her teeth, gave her a fluoride treatment, and even did some extra work of putting sealant on her lower teeth. Then she got to pick out a prize from the “treasure chest” and get her picture taken for the “Zero Cavity Wall” of photos. It felt almost normal.

dentist-officeWhat a difference from 4 years ago when I took her to the same dentist shortly after arriving home with her from China! In that first visit, she fought against everything they tried to do–she was terrified of the x-ray machine, she had to be physically restrained in the dentist chair, and they did well just to get enough peeks into her mouth to see that she had cavities on just about every tooth. Even after all of that initial work was completed (under general anesthesia), she still fought and struggled with everything–especially x-rays–so I dreaded those trips to the dentist.

In time, however, she gradually has learned what to expect at the dentist’s office. I have tremendous respect and gratitude for her dentist and the hygienists and office staff there, who have been truly kind and gentle and gracious (and persistent!) with her through all of this. And so this morning, they all were commenting what a huge difference it was today compared to that first year or two.

As I drove home with her, I thought about how much I need the dentist’s perspective on all the other areas of Anah’s life too. The dentist only sees her 2 or 3 times in a year, so every time she sees her, she can see some significant change in Anah. I see Anah every day, and oftentimes the continuous daily battles and struggles eclipse any sense of progress or growth. It’s only when I step back and look at last year or 3 years ago that I can see that there really is improvement.

I suppose it is the same in my life too. When I fall again to the same sin or struggle that I’ve dealt with for years, it feels like I will never change. But if I can look beyond the daily battle to see the longer term perspective, then I can see that indeed God is at work changing and sanctifying my heart in Him. It’s just a slow process.

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”          Philippians 1:6

Adopted, yet Waiting for Adoption

Romans 8 has long been a favorite Bible passage of mine, because of the strong undercurrent of HOPE that runs through it. Hope, for me as a Christian, is not merely a nice-sounding wish that maybe things will get better someday, but it is a certainty of glory that will surely come but is not yet. Because that hope is certain but yet future, we as Christians live in a tension between what is already true and what is not yet realized fully.

Spiritual adoption is one aspect of this already-not yet tension. Human adoption–to the extent that it mirrors this same tension–gives us a more tangible picture of this spiritual reality.

Romans 8:15-17 says that we “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons,” and therefore “we are children of God” and “fellow heirs with Christ.” We have received adoption–it is past tense, completed…already. Adoption gives us a new status as children of God and heirs with Christ. That is what we are–present tense…already. But then just a few verses later, in Romans 8:23, we see that we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” That’s something we’re waiting for and hoping for…it’s not yet. So we are adopted already, yet we’re waiting for adoption. How can that be?

Adoption changes our status. God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13). That is the already part. But adoption doesn’t immediately change our situation. Our status has been changed to son/daughter and heir, but we have not yet received the inheritance. Whether a child enters a family biologically or through adoption, they are still a child and do not receive their full inheritance until adulthood. And therefore we groan and wait and hope (Romans 8:23-25).

ice-cream-for-anahI see this same already-not yet tension at play in my family’s adoption of my daughter Anah. This Saturday will mark 4 years since her status changed from a ward of the state in China to the daughter of Daniel & Vera Christian. All the mounds of paperwork have been completed. She is officially ours…already. And yet in many ways it feels as if nothing has changed. We still can’t have a conversation with her–only scripted lines that we tell her to say. We don’t really know her–we don’t have any clue who she really is as a person because she’s lived her whole life letting others think for her. And we’re no longer sure if any of these things are going to change…certainly not yet. Her family naimg_0364me has changed to ours, but inside she seems to still be the same little girl that marched into our room–and into our lives–four years ago. Already…but not yet.

And so we groan, and we wait, and we try to hope. But we are realizing more and more that our hope cannot be in what we will do to train her and help her to grow. No, the only real hope we have is that God also will adopt her into His family. Because then–and only then–will there be the certainty that her broken mind and body will one day be redeemed and made whole (Romans 8:23). And then we will know her for who God has made her to be, in all her sweetness and silliness and creativity, without the dull mindlessness that now remains as a frustrating reminder of her pre-adoption life.


The VIM of Retreats

Image 12I have said before that I believe spiritual retreats are a foundational discipline–not of greater value than other disciplines, but foundational in the sense of primary. In the hurried, noisy culture in which most of us live, we rarely pause to reflect or listen, and even more rarely do we pull aside from the busyness to simply be alone with God with no agenda. Yet it is in those quiet places of solitude that the truth of the Gospel sinks deeper than theological knowledge and moves our hearts to worship the God who saves. Retreats create space in our lives to pursue other vital disciplines, which otherwise would not happen (or would only happen sporadically and distractedly).

So if that’s the case, why don’t we retreat more often? If retreats set the stage for so many other areas of spiritual growth, it would be foolish to allow retreats to be a rarity in our lives. And yet for most of us, myself included, rare retreating is the reality. Why is that?

Dallas Willard used the acronym VIM to describe the elements necessary for spiritual transformation into Christlikeness. There has to be the right Vision, the right Intention or decision, and these have to be accompanied by adequate Means of carrying it out. Willard says “We simply cannot accomplish at the intention level what has to be accomplished at the vision level, and we cannot accomplish at the means level what has to be accomplished at the intention and the vision level. One common problem is that we tend to accentuate the means and get all the means, but we do not have in place the vision or the intention” (from a lecture given at Talbot Seminary in 2008, called Beyond Pornography). I think this goes a long way in explaining why retreats are so rare even though they accomplish so much good in our hearts.

Retreats are part of the Means of growth toward maturity in Christ. But if our Vision of retreats is that they are merely optional luxuries that are nice occasionally, then we will not be likely to utilize the means available to us, no matter how many opportunities and resources we might be given. Likewise, if we see retreats as important, yet never Intend or decide to build them in to our schedules, they will not happen.

Therefore if we are going to make the most of this foundational means of spiritual transformation, we must first be convinced that retreats are indeed vital–not in and of themselves, but because they create space for deeper relating with God and one another. And as that vision grows, we must then make it our intention to actually retreat–something as time-consuming and counterintuitive as a retreat will not just happen unless it is decided on and planned for. And then, only when that vision and intention are in place, will retreats become a foundational means of growth toward maturity in Christ.

Of Parables and Picture Books

When Jesus used parables in His teaching, the stories were often aimed at listeners “on the side” who weren’t necessarily the direct audience. In the same way, we as adults are sometimes touched deeply through “children’s stories” even if they aren’t written directly to us. The Jesus Storybook Bible has had that effect on me–I used to read it to my children, but I would be the one getting teary-eyed from the beautiful depiction of the Gospel in those faImage 6miliar stories.

So the picture book that I published recently did not come about because I wanted to write a story for children, but because I wanted to help us as adults understand and connect with God’s mercy in a deeper way. It’s one thing to know the mercy of God conceptually–as a theological truth to be grasped with the mind–but a different thing entirely to embrace that mercy experientially–as a reality that touches the core of our being. My prayer is that this simple story, accentuated by Hailey Wada’s beautiful illustrations, would awaken our hearts anew to the wonder of God’s mercy.

If you attend Evergreen SGV, we’ll have copies available for purchase (at a discounted price) in the coming weeks. If you don’t attend my church, you can purchase copies of the picture book here or through amazon.com. So even if you don’t have children to read it to, get a copy for yourself and let your heart be moved by the depth of God’s mercy…for you.