Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Anyway, the new link is: http://ianfullnessofjoy.wordpress.com.
Thanks for reading!
Saturday, December 13, 2008
We arrived at the grandmother’s wake two hours after it began and stood in line for half an hour to greet the family. The funeral home was packed with friends and family to the point of standing room only – all there to honor the life of one they loved.
My dad, assistant principal of the high school the students attended, organized a memorial service the night of the accident. The church in which it was held was filled almost to seating capacity with devastated high school students, there to comfort each other and share stories about the lives of two close friends.
Why am I telling you this? Well, these two incidents, in two different ways, have led me to begin to reevaluate my life and the way in which I spend it.
Recently I have begun to ponder one burning question: What will I leave behind? Or, to look at it another way, how will the world, or even a life, be better because I was there?
Mrs. Levander was an active member of her community and her church. She had been for many, many years. Thus, at her passing, there were hundreds of people, old and young, whom she impacted for good.
Blake and Jeffery were known by their fellow students for extending themselves to others even when doing so was inconvenient. Thus, at their passing, there were scores of teens and even teachers who could say, “they were two of my closest friends.”
Everyone has heard that every day should be lived as if it were the last. For it certainly might be. How often do we fail to go beyond what is familiar and comfortable, telling ourselves, “maybe tomorrow?” When a life is marked by this attitude, what a terrible waste of a God-given gift!
Someone told me a few months ago that “the thought of a meaningless and un-impacting life scares [him] to the core. What on earth are we here for if not to effect change on those we know and love?”
I am beginning to understand what he meant. Especially after these recent events, the thought of living life primarily for myself without much thought to what difference I could be making in the world has become increasingly repulsive. If I were to die tomorrow, how many could say that I impacted them in a significant way that no other had or could? Not many, I’m afraid. I. however, could say this about dozens of individuals who in their own ways have given me a piece of themselves to carry the rest of my life. I thank God for these people. If you are one of the few that I know for sure are receiving this by email, you are several among many in this category. Thank you.
There is another, similar thought that has been in my mind, especially since the unexpected incident on Thursday. How many of the scores of people God has placed in my life know how much I truly appreciate their presence? Especially those who have invested something in me (my parents most of all), how many know just how much their care and involvement means to me? Again, not many. Not nearly enough.
So know that I have resolved that my life will not be wasted on myself and my own tiny (and I mean infinitesimal) comfort zone. If you’re reading this, Josh, I hope this is encouraging in light of our book discussion. When I leave this earth, today or in a hundred years, I want to have made a difference.
Thanks for reading.
Friday, December 5, 2008
As I meditated on the eternality of God last night it became apparent to me that the glories of a man's entire life are like a sparkler firework. Only able to bedazzle us in the dark and only for a short while, the sparkler will shine and then fizzle out, only to be discarded in the trash. Yet if we saw the sparkler in the daylight, it wouldn't demand our attention, nor stand out, quite the same. In the darkness of our present world, men can demand our attention for their own exaltation, and the sad part is, we give it to them! We praise them for their temporal achievements that are only able to be done by God's mercy in keeping them alive. How backwards! Yet, if we put these silly sparklers of men in the light of God's burning, abounding glory, we will be led to exalt the King of Glory, who is Jesus Christ.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I know it’s been a while since I updated my David Wells lecture notes. Sorry to those of you who were interested. Here is part two:
The culture has woven a false view of reality so heavily forced upon us that it becomes a global network of fabricated understanding – a “Matrix” of sorts. It belongs to everyone and therefore no one. It invades life as we are distracted by its inanity from the infinitely crucial and cuts us off from a morality-centered life.
The Postmodern culture has spread its influence to the Western church, as well. Why is it that Christianity cannot be sustained in the West today – though it is here that the church finds its greatest protection?
- Triviality: The church at large has simply become preoccupied with the negligible. When the church is desired only for the benefits of faith without faith itself, whatever faith exists becomes meaningless. To illustrate, a recent statistic shows that while 45% of the American population claim to be “born again,” only about 7-9% maintain even a minimal understanding of basic Biblical doctrine. Once the popular church loses substance with faith, the people of the church lose their identity as the people of God – and the church has officially given itself over to the trivial. Along with the trivial rides the culture. With the culture comes the exultation of self. The church now serves only to channel to the congregation the illusion of substance that the culture brings. Church is now about me. Good and evil lose status. God becomes weightless.
- Uncertainty, or lack of conviction: Our conviction is tied to our sense of God’s righteousness and the knowledge that He demands righteousness from us. But there can no longer be righteousness when “right” ceases to be a valid quality. Lose this standard of absolute morality and you lose conviction. Lose conviction and the church loses the boldness that comes from certainty in absolutes. Doctrine becomes irrelevant, sin a simple weakness, and belief mere opinion.
- Complacency: Those within the church remain hesitant to grasp firmly onto anything, for in a world without truth nothing can be capable of supporting belief. The ultimate faces only indifference. What is good is no longer to be desired above what is evil. This is the church of the most prominent division of Christianity in the West today – the “Apatheists” – which has abandoned truth, righteousness, justice, and faith in the absolute. In short, these millions of “Christians” have rejected the God of the Bible altogether.
This is the American Paradox: never have we had so much outside ourselves, yet within there is so little. Therefore, many turn to God as compensation for what is not found in ourselves. But in the empty churches of today, so few are satisfied.
Wisdom is the knowledge of God shaping our perception of everything else. However, the majority today desires for the knowledge of God to be reduced to what is therapeutic. Here we find some poignant examples: one bestselling book by “America’s Pastor” calls for Christians to develop a “God-informed self-image, discover their innate strengths and abilities; and advance down the road toward health, abundance, significance, and success.” Another by the same author uses “quotations from spiritual and secular sources” to “help you press forward, develop good relationships, form better habits, embrace yourself, develop your inner life, and stay passionate.” Or what about the “updated bestseller” that “gives you a proven strategy for breaking free of Satan’s stronghold?” Want to “tap into the power of fasting?” There’s a book for that, as well!
Do you see what is happening? God, if recognized at all, has become a tool to build our way to… What? Certainly not the greater glory of God through His image in us. No, instead He is a means for us to advance the only thing that truly matters – Self and its promotion. Here is no brokenness before holiness. Here is no longing to know God for who He is. Here is no thought to what He might require of us.
The preacher sees the church as the product and the congregation as consumers as he attempts to sell Christianity. However, the analogy is deeply flawed. No other “product” asks lifelong commitment. Christianity requires the devotion of a life. Without devotion, the church offers nothing that the world does not. This is why we see the disillusioned multitudes leaving empty churches in their wake.
The predicament needs to be reversed on the preacher. The only flourishing churches are those that speak Christianity from God’s own words. Our attention must be centered back on the Triune God of all existence. Problems must be framed in light of eternity. Reality must be seen as it is, not as it is presented to us. We must be content with understanding God not from our own level, but from what He has revealed to us. Every church should strive to be the outcropping of a countercultural reality – the only ultimate reality. If the world looks at the church and sees only the reflection of its own values the church bears no witness. Only light can be seen in the dark.
Modern thought may be at a turning point, but one thing is certain: man continues, and will continue, to forsake God in favor of self.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I recently attended a lecture by David Wells entitled: "How Then Should We Pray to (Postmodern) Persons?" I found it extremely interesting and thought that I would post my notes here. Since I had quite a few pages of notes, I will post them over the course of a week or two.
Part 1: The Postmodern Man
The intellectual culture is at a turning point. This change is one not dissimilar to the “Enlightenment” that provided the foundation of modern culture – until now.
In the Enlightenment, God’s grace was supplanted by our own self-sufficiency. Omniscience was made to bow to the “machine” of human reason. The beginning of this new humanist thought marked off the end middle ages and became the foundation of the modern world.
In the mid-20th century, these foundations were shaken. Now, with the philosophy of centuries crumbling, humanity seeks a new concept of man in which to place confidence – and is finding it in the rising era of postmodern thought.
Postmoderns, we’ll call them, have rejected the concepts of both progress and reason. There can be no true progress, they say, because every step that humanity advances in one aspect of civilization enables us to take many more steps back. For example: technology. The same technology that gives us our computers and antibiotics and spacecraft gives us our weapons of mass destruction. Progress is an illusion.
The human mind enthroned in recent centuries has been usurped – and rightly so – by the truth of man’s corrupted reason. The mind is nothing but a nesting place for private agendas.
Without the two great pillars of society, progress and reason, man cannot look forward, nor can he look inward. So in his quest for meaning he looks outward in search of community with which to identify himself. But true community, it seems, has all but disappeared. Man is left isolated.
The masses consume a delusion of personal and intimate relationships through the mainstream culture. In the world of business and media we buy and sell lies about the roles of men and women in respect to each other, the family, and the world . In place of beauty we have advertising as the art form of the 21st century. The role of society has become to feed our hungry minds – but the emptiness that is thrown at us is incapable of satisfying.
There are threads of continuity that bind the last century together. Chief among them is man’s understanding of self. In the 1970s Christopher Lasch wrote on this very topic in his works Culture of Narcissism and The Minimal Self. To those whose connections with anything outside themselves have been broken – the psychologically homeless – there is nothing apart from the individual that trumps self-awareness. All that remains is self. This is the modern man – the narcissist.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I just wanted to thank many of you for your faithful commenting. It is extremely encouraging to me to know that I have readers who care about what I have to say. Please keep reading and commenting.
For those of you who read this regularly and do not comment (and I know that there are many of you, I meet more of you all the time) please, please let me know what you think. Give your own insight, fill in anything that I may have missed, give suggestions (harsh criticism is totally acceptable), ask for future topics, correct me if you disagree - just feel completely free to voice your opinion about what I write. I want to hear from you.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
You lived to die, rejected and alone
Like a rose; trampled on the ground
You took the fall, and thought of me
As much as I love the song Above All, that last line has long been disturbing to me as evidence of sinful human egotism. Let me clarify by rewriting the end of this popular song:
You took the fall, and thought of God
Don’t get me wrong. Christ did die for a lost humanity. Let us never forsake this beautiful truth. But did He do so primarily for our sake? No. The end goal of God’s redemption of mankind is not merely our happiness.
Our supreme happiness, though, is a key element of the fulfillment of God’s purpose in redemption. On the cross, Christ freed us that we may delight not in self-centered sin, but that we may delight only in the Lord. And herein rests the answer. God’s ultimate display of love in the cross was that we might be led to the only lasting joy: namely, that we are free to delight in, and participate in, the eternal glorification of God.
God’s glory is the greatest good. Period. This being the case, for God to do anything for any other reason would mean for Him to place created thing over Himself. He would be guilty of idolatry, and therefore cease to be God. This is what is meant by the jealousy of God. He cannot be perfect and not seek His own glory above all. He values Himself over all else and is infinitely right in doing so.
John Piper puts it this way: “God’s love is penultimate; God’s glory is ultimate.” God’s love is the platform by which He is glorified. It only follows, then, that the greatest love He could show us is by allowing us to enjoy His glory the way He does. If Christ had died for any other reason God’s love would have been shown to be far too small. Ephesians 1:4-6 says this:
“…In love He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will, to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given in the One He loves.”
I am reminded of the old question of the catechism: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer, simply stated, is this: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Or again as John Piper has rewritten it in his book Desiring God, “To glorify God by enjoying Him forever.”
Christ did not redeem us to give us grounds for reveling in a sense of self-worth. Christ redeemed us that we might find the supreme satisfaction in valuing God the way He values Himself. And this, my friends, truly is fullness of joy.
“In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Friday, October 17, 2008
Philip James Eliot, better know to us as Jim Eliot, was born in Portland, Oregon in 1927 to a chiropractor mother and a Baptist minister. Professing faith at age six, he grew up in a strongly Christian environment. He attended Benson Polytechnic High School, studying primarily architectural drawing while developing an incredible speaking ability, which he used regularly to defend his beliefs.
In 1945, Eliot entered Wheaton College, a private Christian college in the western Chicago suburbs. Feeling that he had been called here by God, he intended to use the time to prepare for ministry. He did not, however, highly value the majority of his studies, considering them to be mere distractions to the Christian seeking to follow after God. This mindset can be seen in a letter written to his father.
You speak of [education] as 'rounding out one's manhood'. It rounds it out, all right, but I'm afraid sometimes it's more in the style of I. Corinthians 8:1, 'knowledge puffeth up'. 'Culture', philosophy, disputes, drama in its weaker forms, concerts and opera, politics---anything that can occupy the intellect seems to turn aside the hearts of many here on campus from a humble life in the steps of the Master, though we sing about this most delicately! No, education is dangerous, and, personally, I am beginning to question its value in the Christian’s life. I do not disparage wisdom --- that comes from God, not Ph.Ds.
A statistic that deeply impacted Jim’s heart for missions was this: “There is one Christian worker for every 50,000 people in foreign lands, while there is one to every 500 in the United States.” Burdened by a call to evangelistic work, Jim spent a summer with a missionary family in Mexico. It was during this time that he made the decision to minister to the lost in South America.
While in the latter years of college, Jim became friends with a Elizabeth Howard, a girl one year older than himself who also desired to become a missionary. However, they did not feel God’s calling for marriage by Elizabeth’s graduation, and thus parted. In a later letter to Elizabeth Jim wrote:
There is within a hunger after God, given of God, filled by God. I can be happy when I am conscious that he is doing what He wills to do within.
In 1948, he was elected president of Foreign Mission Fellowship. That year he wrote in his journal:
God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus.
Jim was accepted to Camp Wycliffe, a linguistics program in Norman, Oklahoma, where he learned the skills necessary to transcribe spoken language. It was at this camp that he first heard of the Auca, or Huaorani, tribe of Ecuador – a tribe that had never had any friendly contact with the outside world. Immediately, Jim felt a desire to minister to this people.
Due to various circumstances, he was unable to travel to Ecuador for over a year. During this time, Jim worked with youth in Indiana and Illinois while hosting a radio program, “The March of Truth,” along with Ed McCully and Peter Cathers in Chester, Illinois.
Eliot eventually made his way to Ecuador, initially working to evangelize the Quichua Indians. On October 8. 1953, he and Elizabeth Howard were married in Quito. After a brief honeymoon, they returned to Ecuador to continue their work.
Jim and his wife were joined by Ed McCully, Pete Fleming (Jim’s college roommate), Roger Youderian, and their pilot, Nate Saint, in the effort to reach out to the Huaorani people with the Gospel of Christ. Because of the pronounced hostility of this people, all contact was made by airplane over a loudspeaker. As they flew over the Auca villages, they would drop baskets of gifts and photos of themselves in order to establish a certain amount of cautious familiarity before approaching the tribe personally.
Their work was rewarded after the group was approached by a friendly band of Indians and even gave one of them, “George” (whose real name was Naenkiwi) a ride in the airplane. These peaceable visits encouraged the missionaries, who at last began preparation to enter the village center of the Auca tribe.
They never had the opportunity to meet the natives. On January 8, 1956, the men were discovered dead, killed by a small group of apprehensive Huaorani.
Their wives, upon learning of the tragedy, replied only this – that "The Lord has closed our hearts to grief and hysteria, and filled them with His perfect peace."
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
This now-famous quote from the journal of Philip James Eliot became his life, his testimony, and his legacy. Jim dedicated – and ultimately sacrificed – his very life to further the kingdom of Christ. 1 Corinthians 15 says this:
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord, knowing that your labor is not vain in the Lord.
And the work of Jim Eliot was not in vain. His personal testimony coupled with his legacy of love for the lost spurred his wife and several others to continue the work he and his companions began. The Auca tribe was reached with the gospel of grace, and many – including his killers – came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
There is another reason why the work of Jim Eliot was not in vain – one that perhaps touches closer to the heart of the 1 Corinthians passage.
I received a greatly challenging letter this week from a friend. In it he wrote:
It is very important, Ian, that you give yourself over daily to the mission of Christ. I do not mean you should give yourself to some specific calling, like becoming a pastor or social worker. I mean you should offer up your heart, your life, your soul, your all, to God – wherever you are and whatever you do. The specifics will work themselves out.
If you’re reading this, T, there is lot more about this that I want to discuss with you later. For the rest of my readers, though this is similar to what we hear from the pulpit and read in the Bible frequently, it is unquestionably important that we give ourselves over to Christ. We are called to daily surrender our all to Him – in this we grow in His likeness and in greater obedience to the Father.
We are not fools to give what we cannot keep -- our time, our resources, our earthly pleasures, our wills, even our very lives -- to gain that all the eternal joys of knowing that our work glorifies God; that we of all people have been called children of God; and ultimately that we partake in the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.
Undoubtedly, surrender to Christ is difficult. It takes time. It goes directly against all that our fallen hearts desire. It involves trial. It means that we take up our own crosses and follow Him at whatever cost.
But in the end, there is no greater reward.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
This Sunday morning in the youth class, our teacher, Josh, taught on the Fall. Regardless of whether my readers hold a literal or figurative interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, this ancient chapter of the Bible presents a powerful and timeless picture of the human heart. I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion both with Josh and at our individual tables. For those who were not there, here is a small part of my notes with some clarification and further explanation.
Genesis 3:1-6 What tactics does the serpent use to tempt Eve? - appeals to the flesh, eyes, desires - challenges God’s character - challenges God’s authority, wisdom. The serpent, who is identified as Satan much later in the Scriptures, used a very basic approach in the deception of Eve. He showed her how pleasant the fruit was physically. (v.6) Surely something so obviously good and attractive can’t be wrong? Perhaps even more persuasive was Satan’s direct assault on God’s character in verses 1 and 4-5. When we cannot trust the personal character of those who have authority over us, where now is the motivation for heartfelt obedience? What did Adam and Eve do wrong? - doubt - desired power - lacked trust, questioned authority - exchanged truth for lie - sought themselves above all.
I am of the opinion that the true sin was not “mere” disobedience. The action of eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was, like all sinful actions, only a symptom of the much greater disease. Adam and Eve could only have disobeyed if they lacked confidence in He to whom they owed their obedience. They valued their wisdom above God’s own. They mistrusted God’s ability to give good gifts to His children. They failed to realize the truth of Isaiah 55:9 – “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
They used their own reason to determine what would be best for themselves and thus said in effect: “I have concluded that I, the creation, am better able to determine for myself what is right and wrong than is my sovereign Creator.” Incredibly, they believed that they were better suited than God to judge right and wrong before they even had the power to know one from the other! How foolish is the human heart! How arrogant! The extreme lack of discretion here would almost be amusing could it not be found in my own heart.
Most people who know me very well know of my frequent references to C.S. Lewis. I have found so much in his work that has strongly shaped and impacted my thinking that I have taken to reading his work almost fanatically. I do not agree with everything he writes; in fact there is much that I wholeheartedly disagree with. But I love his work for the sake of the great good to be found within it. If you follow this blog, be prepared to hear a great deal from our friend Mr. Lewis. My favorite work of fiction is Lewis’ Perelandra, second in his not-so-well-known Space Trilogy. Without going into too much detail, this work is a poignant picture of the fall. It is, as the Narnia books, not an allegory, but a supposal.
The basic premise of the book is this: “Let’s take the first five verses of Genesis 3 and turn it into a novel of several hundred pages. Let’s put it in modern times. And while we’re at it, why don’t we put this story on another planet? Venus will do. And why not send someone from our own world to mediate the interaction between Eve and the Serpent? Finally, must this Eve succumb in the end?”
This book does a fantastic job of analyzing the Biblical narrative from a multitude of perspectives. It shows the temptation in light of the innocent, ignorant Eve. It elaborates on the methods used masterfully by the Devil. It tells the story from the perspective of one who has seen the effects of one Fall in his own world. Finally, it paints a stunningly accurate portrait of just how easily the heart is swayed. Perhaps more than anything, Perelandra revealed to me the similarity between the deception behind the fall of man and the struggles I face in my own life thousands of years later.
How often do I reach out for evil, believing that God is withholding from me some greater good? How often am I tempted to listen to the twisted truth of the Devil, perceiving it through my own corrupted reason as wisdom? How often do I seek fulfillment in other than what God has ordained should be satisfying? When will I cease to see myself as anything other than a fallible human being? When will I finally understand that I cannot begin to comprehend the mind of God?
Once we realize just how much we are like poor, deceived Eve, our confidence in our own wisdom evaporates. At the same time, our utter dependence on an infinitely wise, infinitely knowing, infinitely powerful, and infinitely loving God is reinforced. All truth, all wisdom, all goodness comes from Him alone. Let us live with a renewed confidence that God knows what is good for His children.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
First off, a (very) little about me. I am a homeschooled high-school student living in the suburbs with my family of seven. My life right now can be summarized very easily: church, writing, school. A life in three words.
The title of my blog, Fullness of Joy, comes from the sixteenth Psalm:
9Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope. 10For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will You allow your holy one to see corruption. 11You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
I recently had the great pleasure of attending our church’s youth summer camp at Indiana Wesleyan University. I changed greatly over that week. I changed perhaps more than I have over any other week (or month) in my life. The theme of the week was “Taste and See God’s Goodness” and came from Psalm 34. Spending five days of worship and study in a single psalm may seem like drudgery, but it was fantastic. As I was led through it by God working through Perry Garrett as well as my wonderful small group and youth group leaders, I was brought into the realization that the pleasures of this world have nothing to offer me - only God has that which is ultimately satisfying. In fact, we cannot even begin to take proper joy in anything unless He is our joy above all. Our love of Him will necessarily determine the way in which we love all else – how simple and seemingly obvious, yet how true and profound!
Over the three months since that time, I have been discovering just how infinitely valuable is the joy of being called a son of the living God. Please join me as I continue to discover. Leave a comment if you’re with me. I would like to promote good discussion among any who might be reading. Agree, disagree, ask for a topic - I’d love to hear what you have to say.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
First, I'd like to thank everyone who inspired me to take up blogging, especially
Josh Huff, Jordan Huff, and Travis Mitchell - thanks, guys! I've really enjoyed learning from you. I only hope that I will be able to express myself half as eloquently as you do.
Feel free to leave comments and questions. I will try to post a couple times a week, but that may vary significantly.
Incidentally, my brother, Nathan, has a blog running at http://tasteandsee-oasis.blogspot.com/. I have no idea what he's planning on doing over there, but I'm sure it will be worth checking out.