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Reflecting on the Richness of Life (Pt. 2)

I notice that there are many half-happy people in this world, who are very much content with being half-happy. They just seem to be going with the flow and only stopping to reevaluate and grow when they face some sort of major life difficulty. Aside from that they don’t want to be bothered or challenged in their pursuits and purposes.

But as I look at the unfolding of my life in Christ I am constantly blown away at the depth and richness of life that everyday yields. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not offer us a mere moralistic therapeutic deism* (which seems to be the experience of, even, many christians today). The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us with a deeper life that is built on the all consuming purpose of God for life. Who else can teach us about life except the Author of life himself? What is any other worldview worth in comparison to his? 
Any attempt at creating something better is an assault on his integrity and an act of spiritual suicide. On what basis do we think that we can be the creators of our own worldview? I still have not understood the answer to this question.
But no matter how joyful I am in Christ – I find that there is always more out there. No matter how founded my life seems to become on his values – I find that there is always more and more to discover. I see that there is a richness of life in Christ that cannot be compared to any other, and which I have a hard to even putting into words. While so many people around seem to run to things and experiences and vacations for joy I don’t need to go anywhere – all I need to do is call to mind the founding realities of my life. 
As I try to be as honest with myself as I can be – I notice that it is not just a superficial joy and peace the comes from thinking that “my sins are forgiven and I am free from eternal punishment”. The joy of Christ is a growing depth of satisfaction that comes as a result of his values and his purposes intertwining and growing into my life to become one inseparable whole. As I grow in this lifestyle, I am more and more convinced of the undeniable reality of the person of Jesus Christ and of the fact that the soul finds it’s satisfaction in him alone. With this perspective – nothing in life is apart from him, and nothing is apart from his joy and richness. 
What conclusion to I reach as I observe and learn from the lives of the people around me? Is my perspective any better than theirs? Nope. My perspective is just as futile as theirs. The only perspective that is worth anything is the perspective of the One who invented the very idea of perspective – the One who put all things into place. He is the one who invented life, he is the one who invented joy. The more I grow into his perspective and out of mine – the more I see of my deep and constant need in him. 
John Piper does a fine job of once again articulating this truth:
“In conversion we find the hidden Treasure of the kingdom of God. We venture all on it. And year after year in the struggles of life, we prove the value of the treasure again and again, and we discover the depths of the riches we had never known. And so the joy of faith grows. When Christ calls us to a new act of obedience that will cost us some temporal pleasure, we call to mind the surpassing value of following Him, and by faith in his proven worth, we forsake the worldly pleasure. The result? More joy! More faith! Deeper than before. And we go on in from joy to joy and faith to faith.”
 
* This term was coined by sociologist Christian Smith who studied the religious lives of young people today and concluded that the basic premise of their lives is a superficial  faith in a god that likes people to be good, rewards them for being good, and helps them find joy in being good and believing in him. 

Reflecting on the Richness of Life (Pt. 1)

One of the things that has really been on my mind lately is the impact that the gospel of Jesus Christ has on the depth and richness of my life. I am always looking around at the lives of the people that surround me, always trying to see the differences, and trying to understand the reason that those differences exist. As I observe the lives of the people around me, I am also reflecting on the richness of my life and on the ways that I must improve and grow in order to make it a more fulfilling and meaningful experience.

I am noticing more and more that there are so many different ways to live life. Although we might live in the same town, go to the same college, work in the same hospital – I still see that there is a radical difference between the various experiences of life that surround me. What seems to be a deeper difference is not the specific physical and experiential circumstance that surround a person but the mindset/worldview within which they operate; the values that govern the heart of the person determine the vast difference in the experience of life that one has.

What makes me think that I am on the right path when there are so many?

At the same time – I am noticing that, with the different experiences of life that fill this world come various depths of joy and richness. The world is full of people who are happy or sad, fulfilled or empty, useless or purposeful – and all for different reasons. People find joy and meaning in all sorts of things – and some things bring more joy than others.

What makes me think that my source of joy is superior to theirs?

Now, the conclusion that I am now expected to make is to say something like, “After all this, I realize that my way and my joy is no better than others. I need to be more humble and more mindful of all the things that they have to offer me rather than setting my worldview over and above theirs.” But if I am honest with myself I must say that nothing could be further from the truth.

I notice that there are many half-happy people in this world, who are very much content with being half-happy. They just seem to be going with the flow and only stopping to reevaluate and grow when they face some sort of major life difficulty. Aside from that they don’t want to be bothered or challenged in their pursuits and purposes.

But the idea of merely and peacefully settling for ‘what works’ is so very much unsettling to me. What if there is an ocean of depth and meaning and joy that beyond this half-happy pragmatic perspective? As I seek to understand the best that this world has to offer I am still left wanting. There must be something more.

A Satisfied Soul

In his book Desiring God, John Piper is challenging me and pointing my mind to think about some things that I have not seen as clearly before. As I read the Psalms, I am amazed at the language that the writers use. They do not come to a distant and demanding God. They come to a God who is extremely close to their heart, and is at the very center of their affections and pursuit of joy.

“You make known to me the path of life;
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Ps. 16:11)

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness,
When I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.” (Ps. 17:15)

“As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.” (Ps. 42:1)


What is different about these words is that the writer does not merely say that we should worship God because it is the good and right thing to do. Neither is he saying that we should come to God because he will make us happy. Rather, he is expressing the true and deep satisfaction that his soul finds in knowing, living and praising God.

We all seek joy. It is the only reason that we ever do anything – because we believe that in some way, it will make us happy. Its interesting to observe that, despite the fact that everyone seeks joy always – there are so many miserable people in this world. Aside from being miserable, there are many people who seem to be only half-happy.

As I look around, into the lives of the people around me, and into my own life, I see that there is very little true joy in this world. There are many stimuli which promise joy – but in the end, often dry out and fall flat. There are also many things that do indeed give great joy and satisfaction – but they last only for a short while. But I see very little true, penetrating, peace-giving, soul-satisfying joy in this world.

Now, although I do believe that true joy is found in God alone, I am not saying that all we need to do is come to Jesus and you will have it. Its not that simple. There are no quick fixes in life. I have been a christian for 5 years and still find myself being drawn to find joy in things that I myself know won’t truly give it.

Although all of our souls run on this drive to find joy, it seems like our aim is all out of whack. We are constantly drawn to a million little momentary joys – many of which we ourselves know won’t give it. I’m sure we can all admit that we are often tempted to do things that we ourselves know are wrong. But we are still tempted. Why is that? As C.S. Lewis points out, “We are far too easily pleased”. The tendency for cheep joy seems to always reside in our hearts. 

But in contrast to all this there is such a deep joy and satisfaction in the words of the Psalmists – “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” This is the kind of joy that we do not see very much of in this world. It’s depth and stability is a rare thing in this depressingly stimulating world.

If there is a God who made all things, than he himself is the inventor, and greatest source of joy. If this is true, than knowing him and living a life that is permeated by his influence is the only true source of unshakable joy – a joy that permeates the character and foundation of our souls. This is not a joy that just comes and goes, but rather, is one that itself acts as the spring of all other joys in life.

Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

One of the most mind paralyzing aspects of life has to do with our relationship to the people around us. Although it is expressed in all of us in different ways, it impacts us all in a significant way. Some of us would be very reluctant to admit it. Many of us would even by resistant. But if we dig deep enough into our hearts we can always see at its foundation, the reality of this debilitating problem. 


Relationships in general are one of the most complex aspects of life. And this specific aspect of our relationships has to do with our relationship to the way that other people see us, and relate to us. Because we are such social creatures, we constantly struggle with the dichotomy of desiring love, care, and affirmation from others and not having full capability of always getting these things. 


Because of this we fear rejection and alienation. We fear the opinions and thoughts of others because we believe that they have power to change our lives and bring us joy. Fear of others always has to do with a fear of transparency. We don’t want to put ourselves in a vulnerable situation. We don’t want to be put in a situation where we will lose others affirmation and support. We don’t want to open ourselves up to them because we believe that, just as they have the power to bring us joy and confidence, they also have the power to take these things away. 

What if I fail? What if I look stupid? What if they prove me wrong? What if they don’t accept me? These are the questions that often direct our thoughts and actions as we learn to relate to the people around us. 

What we can see here is that fear of others is fundamentally a selfish thing. It is an attitude that is consumed with self, self image, and personal well being. It seems everyone else as potential enemies and blocks them out for the sake of preserving our own goodness. 

But the deepest problem with this fear is not just that it is selfish, but that it kills our ability to truly love. 1 John 4:18 says that, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts our fear.” Fear and love are opposites. Fear has to do with self, love has to do with others. Fear has to do with keeping everything to yourself, love has to do with giving it all away. Fear causes us to close up, love opens itself up to the lives around. 

Looking at Christ, the epitome of love, we all see these things in action. Despite the great pressure that he had from the crowds and the people that surrounded him, he never wavered or shook. He never seemed to have lost his focus and his direction. He was able to stand in front of the frustrated Pontuis Pilot and tell him that despite the fact that Pilot was a ruler, his fear of the people meant he had no control of the situation.

Why is this? Why didn’t Christ ever let the ideas and opinions of people ever put a dent in his convictions? The answer is simple – he loved them too much. He loved them to much to be focused on his own image. He loved them to much to believe their masks and their pride. Perfect love casts out fear because it focuses on the heart of the individual rather than on personal well being. 

The only cure to self love is love of others. It is a selfless love that gives without any demand of receiving anything in return. We are freed from our fear that others might take something away from us only when we willingly give it all away. Identity, pride, self-image. Being shaped by the love of Christ, and defined by his love, we make our lives open to their scrutiny and observation with the desire that somehow this can serve and challenge their own thinking and living. 

There is no room for fear in this kind of love. 

The Painful Love of Christ

Yes I am writing a blog post while I’m on vacation in Hawaii. Some people might think thats crazy. But one of the things that I really love about being here is the fact that my mind is so free and relaxed, and is placed in a context within which I can think carefully and honestly through the issues in my life. So here I am, sitting on the beach, under the amazing night sky, listening to the waves crash on the sandy shore, and clicking away at my laptop.

Lately I have found myself thinking on the love of Christ quite a bit, and a find myself realizing things that I have not noticed before. I think that as christians, we often times miss the depth of the love of Christ because we often forget how hard we are to love.


Often times when we think of Christ’s love for us, we think of how he gave himself for us, and how we have so joyfully accepted him, and trusted him with our lives, and how amazing it is that we now live a life knowing him and rejoicing in him. In this new joy we see the love of Christ. It is easy to see the joyful and easy part of his love for us.

But often we do not think about the fact that because Christ has committed himself to loving us no matter what, he has, and continues to, endure a great deal of pain and suffering on our behalf. We like to think about the fact that he is all-loving, but we do not like to see the fact that WE are not all-lovable.

We were hard to love

Think about it: Christ came into this world to suffer, humbled himself, made himself nothing – all because of his great love for us. He committed himself to us, to reaching and serving our hearts, when we were living lives of hate towards all that he was and stood for.

Notice Paul’s concerning this issue –
“And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

Notice – he didn’t just give himself for us; he loved us and gave himself for us. What can be more painful and heartbreaking to see that those whom you love and give up your whole life for are hating and mocking you in return?! We were hard to love.

We are hard to love 

But notice something else: despite the fact that we have loved him and have given him our lives – we are still full of failure. Despite the fact that at salvation Christ’s love reaches a new depth and character in our lives, we do not become any easier to love. Yes we give him our lives, yes we live for his glory – but we are still full of failure, lack commitment, and constantly backslide.

Do we ever think about the great pain that our sin brings to his heart? He has made us his children, blessed us with all he has, surrounded us with resources to equip us and help us grow, joined himself to our hearts – and yet, we often trade him for the foolish little joys of this world.

I think that the thing that makes this pain great is that his love for us will never let him quit on us. Therefore, no matter how often the failure – he is committed to loving us to the end, and he knows that in this life, we will always have failure. He knows that when he commits to loving us, he is committing himself to taking in the daily pain of our sins, and continuing to love us through it all.

Our laziness and foolishness and stubbornness – daily bombard his heart. Yet his love endures through all this. Our human heart might hang in the gap between rejection and acceptance for a season of life, but he endures this for us everyday. We are hard to love, yet it is to this kind of love that he commits himself for our sake. What a love this is!

If you still don’t see the significance, try it on yourself. How eagerly do you accept the idea of loving someone who doesn’t love you back? How often do we seek to serve the blessing of others even when it comes at the cost of our own heart pain? How quickly and easily do we find reason to quite loving people in our lives who do not seem to value the ‘sacrifice’ (which it seldom truly is) that we are making for them. Love is so easy when it is rewarded with praise and admiration.

But we are called to love like Christ loves. We are called to see the good of others as superior to our own. We are called to love even when we don’t see any visible personal gain or result. We are called to love even though it might cost us. It is my prayer and personal commitment to continue to be humbled by my horrible selfishness, and to continue to strive in learning to love like Christ loves.
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