Category Archives: Love of God

Christmas Break Reading, Part 2: “Crazy Love”

crazylove.jpgI knew I shouldn’t have said (last week) that this review was coming “early this week.”  Well, okay, so it’s here really early this week.

I can’t imagine that there’s much suspense here, though, because I haven’t held my cards very close to my chest on this one.  In my previous post on The Shack, I called Crazy Love, by Francis Chan, “one of the best books I’ve ever read.”  After having had, now, three weeks to reconsider that statement, I don’t think I will.  I like that accolade just fine.  This is an absolutely outstanding book, and one that I will likely ask every person I disciple to read from here on out.

Here’s what you have to understand though—and this is key in my excitement over the book: One of the things I like so much about Crazy Love is that I’m excited to recommend it to people.  Because it’s simple.  It’s very easy to read.  But (defying all my expectations, because of its popularity) it’s not fluffy.  Really great books that are really difficult are pretty common.  And almost no one reads them.  Really worthless books that are easy to read are also very common.  And unfortunately everyone reads them.  Evangelical Christians, in particular, are known for reading a lot of easy, fluffy crap.

But narrow is the selection and hard to find are the simple books that are also substantive.  That’s one of the reasons I love Crazy Love so much: I can give it to anyone.  I can give it to mature elder saints in my church, some of whom have digested Edwards, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, etc., who will nevertheless eat this up and be recharged for the work of the Kingdom in their last decade or two on earth.  And I can also give it to a brand-spanking new believer so that they can get started on the right foot in understanding what following Christ is really about from the outset.

Maybe the simplest way I have explained this book to people in the last month is to say, “The first half is John Piper lite, and the second half is Shane Claiborne without being quite so far out on the nutty fringe.”  That is, Chan explains the goodness, love and glory of God without being quite so intimidating as Piper’s books can be for less well-read believers, and he challenges Christians to get really, really serious about taking Jesus really, really seriously without going off the deep end and suggesting that we should all make our own clothes and build our own cars that run on vegetable oil (see Claiborne’s mostly excellent Jesus for President).

A few choice quotes:

“Because God hates sin, He has to punish those guilty of sin.  Maybe that’s not an appealing standard.  But to put it bluntly, when you get your own universe, you can make your own standards.  When we disagree, let’s not assume it’s His reasoning that needs correction” (34).

“Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin.  They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it; they’re merely sorry because God is going to punish them.  Lukewarm people don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one.  …They want to do the bare minimum, to be ‘good enough’ without it requiring too much of them.  They ask, ‘How far can I go before it’s considered a sin?’ instead of ‘How can I keep myself pure as a temple of the Holy Spirit?’  They ask, ‘How much do I have to give?’ instead of ‘How much can I give?’  They ask, ‘How much time should I spend praying and reading my Bible?’ instead of ‘I wish I didn’t have to go to work, so I could sit here and read longer!’ (70, 76).  (NB: The entirety of chapter 4, “Profile of the Lukewarm,” was earth shattering for me.)

“Let’s face it.  We’re willing to make changes in our lives only if we think it affects our salvation.  This is why I have so many people ask me questions like, Can I divorce my wife and still go to heaven?  Do I have to be baptized to be saved?  Am I a Christian even though I’m having sex with my girlfriend?  If I commit suicide, can I still go to heaven?  If I’m ashamed to talk about Christ, is He really going to deny knowing me?  To me, these questions are tragic because they reveal much about the state of our hearts.  They demonstrate that our concern is more about going to heaven than loving the King” (86).

“Suppose the flood had never come—Noah would have been the biggest laughingstock on earth.  Having faith often means doing what other see as crazy.  Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers” (115).

Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay this book is this: When I finish most books, I write a brief summary of it and copy out a few key quotes for my files, put it on the shelf and don’t take it down again unless someone wants to borrow it.  Some books are good enough that, when I finish them, I set them aside for a few weeks and then come back to them and reread everything I highlighted and read all my margin notes so that I can digest it and internalize it more thoroughly.  Crazy Love falls into a third category: The rare book that demands that I take at least a full-day retreat to reread much of it and prayerfully, meditatively, thoughtfully, thoroughly consider how I need to apply it to my life and figure out how my life needs to change in light of it.

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Divine Contentment (Part 1)

lake_hammock.jpgOne of the most helpful books I read this year was one I read back in August when Vince and I hit the trail into Glacier National Park for a week, called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs.

I had no idea how helpful it would be when I first decided to read it, and I had no idea that it would be as helpful as it has been since. In it, Burroughs tries to show the way to true, divine contentment as a Christian, as opposed to contentment of the kind the world desires and in the ways the world seeks it.

He bases his treatise on Philippians 4:11-13:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

His desire, in the book, is to show “That to be well skilled in the mystery of Christian contentment is the duty, glory and excellence of a Christian. …Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition” (19), and to unpack for the reader how this contentment can be obtained.

His fifteen theses expounding Christian contentment are the heart of the book. I’ll share them here in brief in the next few posts:

I. “It may be said of one who is contented in a Christian way that he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world. These two together must needs be mysterious” (42).

“A gracious (“gracious” here means “grace-filled” or “grace-wrought”) heart says, ‘Lord, do with me what you will for my passage through this world; I will be content with that, but I cannot be content with all the world for my portion. …Whatever God may give to a gracious heart—a heart that is godly—unless he gives himself it will not do. A godly heart will not only have the mercy, but the God of that mercy as well” (43-4).

In other words, do you want justification? Do you want sanctification? Do you want redemption? Do you want ransom? Or do you want the God that enters into a relationship with us through these things? A Christian cannot be satisfied with anything less than God himself, however many other blessings come his way. And if he has God, he is satisfied whatever else comes his way.

II. “A Christian comes to contentment not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction” (45).

“That is his way of contentment, and it is a way that the world has no skill in. I open it thus: not so much by abiding to what he would have, or to what he has—not by adding more to his condition, but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and his circumstances even and equal. …If he can bring his heart to be as little as his circumstances, to make them even, this is the way to contentment. The world is infinitely deceived in thinking that contentment lies in having more than we already have” (45-6).

This was probably the most powerfully shaping thing I learned in this book. Distinctly Christian contentment normally comes to us through subtracting from our desires, not adding to our circumstances or possessions. I have been praying much more lately, “Lord, give me small and humble desires with regards to the things of this world.”

III. “A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by getting rid of the burden that is on him, as by adding another burden to himself” (47).

“The way of contentment is to add another burden. That is, to labour to load and burden your heart with your sin; the heavier the burden of your sin is to your heart, the lighter will the burden of your affliction be to your heart, and so you shall come to be content. …Have you ever tried this way, husband and wife? Have you ever got alone and said, ‘Come, Oh let us go and humble our souls before God together, let us go into our chamber and humble our souls before God for our sin, by which we have abused those mercies that God has taken away from us, and we have provoked God against us. Oh let us charge ourselves with our sin, and be humbled before the Lord together.’? Have you tried such a way as this? Oh you would find that the cloud would be taken away, and the sun would shine in upon you, and you would have a great deal more contentment than ever you had” (47-8).

In other words, when we have a proper view of our own sin, we very quickly realize that what we already have is entirely undeserved and is therefore an unspeakable kindness from the hand of an extraordinarily kind God.

God vs. Sin

angry-god-1.jpgYesterday morning in Exponential2:2, the men’s discipleship group I lead, we talked at length about sin being first and foremostly a deep offense against God.  That it is only secondarily an offense against ourselves or against others, and always primarily an offense against God himself.

But even as one begins to grasp the fact that sin is always primarily an offense against God, it remains difficult (for me, at least) to imagine just how deeply offensive it is without some illustration or picture of God as offended.  I came across a good (or awful) illustration of it this morning in Leviticus 26:27-33, where the people of God are being warned by God himself concerning disobedience to God:

“But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins.  You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters.  And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you.  And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas.  And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it.  And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste.”

We should move from this text to the Cross.  We should see God’s wrath propitiated at Calvary.  But not so fast.

If we jump too quickly from this text to the cross, we will cheapen it, rob it of its force, and ignore the very reason it was recorded for us in Scripture.  We are meant to linger here over the dead human bodies, stacked on top of the bodies of slaughtered animals.  We are meant to linger here over the ruined, devastated cities, and over the horror of the corpses of cannibalized children until we feel the weight of our sin and realize the massive offense it is to God.

Only when we have felt this will we behold the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ in all it’s dazzling glory.

The Story of Adam

apples.jpgJournal Entry for March 3, 2008

Genesis 3-4; Colossians 1

The story of the garden, it seems to me, is the story of man’s two deepest desires: A desire to live in paradise, in a state of complete peace, comfort, and bliss; and a desire for self-rule and autonomy. Adam and Eve’s choice was a simple one: They could seize power (seemingly) and be expelled from paradise, or they could choose to submit to God and enjoy the utopian benefits.

Adam (literally in the Hebrew: “human”) has become our representative head, and we are complicit with him, both in that he chose exactly what we would have chosen had we been there instead of him and in that every human being since Adam has had to make essentially the same choice: Submit to God and enjoy the benefits of submission, or rebel and dare the consequences.

In a sense, it is not only the choice of our lives, but it is also the choice we make moment by moment: Will I obey and enjoy the fruits of righteousness, or will I disobey and reap the penalties of rebellion? Like Adam, I know the penalties of my sin, and like him my flesh often blinds me to what I know to be good. When I sin, I know it will be distasteful and will be bitter in the end. But I end up believing the empty promises sin makes. Adam and Eve wanted to eat the fruit that looked good and remain in paradise. I want to do what feels good in the moment and remain in intimacy with God.

So, God has set before me a long series of choices today. God, I pray for your grace and wisdom so that I would choose submission to you, knowing that it is the highest, most pleasurable good, rather than choosing sin, knowing that it is only a hollow and fleeting ‘good.’ May I enjoy the peace and joy and life of righteous decisions today.

Big Sky: Day 3

dsc04711.jpgThe Puritans are often charged with having an excessive focus on sin, depravity, the lingering effects of the fallen nature even of the saints, and God’s displeasure in these things.

I tend to think this is an unfair charge in light of the fact that the Puritans simply tended to be very aware of their own sin and of the necessity of overcoming it in order to enjoy God fully. It is not that they based their standing with God on their personal progress in the war against sin. It is, rather, that they so deeply longed for joy in God that they wanted desperately to cast aside anything that hindered that pursuit.

That being said, for those who remain convinced that there is an excessive emphasis on sin and God’s wrath in Puritan literature, John Owen’s Communion with the Triune God is an excellent rebuttal. I’ve been reading it on our vacation, and my heart was overwhelmed by the chapter I read today, wherein Owen goes to lengths to convince the believer of God’s deep love for him, and the urgent necessity of experiencing God’s love in all the ways God means for us to experience it, over against a tendency many have to think only of God’s displeasure in them because of their sin.

I think it was so compelling for me because I do tend to carry a deep sense of guilt with me because I am not as holy and pure as I would like to be, and as I think God deserves from his sons. Consequentially, as I read Owen I spent the morning pondering God’s unspeakable love for me and felt engulfed by it.

Some excerpts:

“This is the great discovery of the gospel: for whereas the Father, as the fountain of the Deity, is not known any other way but as full of wrath, anger, and indignation against sin…here [in the gospel] he is now revealed particularly as love, as full of it unto us; the manifestation whereof is the peculiar work of the gospel” (107).

“This is the will of God, that he may always be [seen] as benign, kind, tender, loving, and unchangeable [in these things]; and that peculiarly as the Father, as the great fountain and spring of all gracious communications and fruits of love. This is that which Christ came to reveal—God as Father; that name which he declares to those who are given him out of the world. And this is that which he effectually leads us to by himself, as he is the only way of going to God as Father—that is, as love—and by doing so, gives us the rest which he promises, for the love of the Father is the only rest of the soul” (112).

“How few of the saints are [experientially] acquainted with this privilege of holding immediate communion with the Father in love!” (123).

“Let, then, this be the saints’ first notion of the Father—as one full of eternal, free love toward them: let their hearts and thoughts be filled with breaking through all discouragements that lie in their way” (124).

“[God’s love is] eternal. It was fixed on us before the foundation of the world. Before we were, or had done the least good, then were his thoughts upon us. Then was his delight in us. Then did the Son rejoice in the thoughts of fulfilling his Father’s delight in him. …It was from eternity that he laid in his own [heart] a design for our happiness. The very thought of this is enough to make all that is within us…leap for joy. A sense of it cannot but prostrate our souls to the lowest abasement of a humble, holy reverence, and make us rejoice before him with trembling” (124-5).