Emptiness to fullness

 

In Ephesians 3:19 Paul states that he wants believers to “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, so that they may be filled with all of the fullness of God.”

Christ’s love for us does something amazing: it surpasses our very knowledge and understanding of it.

When I have thought of the word “surpass” in the past, I have thought of it wrongly — as I have just discovered.

Here are the variety of definitions that I previously had filed in my head for “surpass:”

  • to outrun, or catch up to and run past.
  • to rise above, as in gaining stature or position above something else.
  • to have more than another, as in surpassing riches.

All of my descriptions show an error in thinking. Namely, my error was thinking that two things were equal, or close to being equal, with one eventually overtaking the other. While this may describe an earthly definition of “surpassing,” it is wrong when thinking of the love of Christ surpassing our knowledge. Bad wrong.

Christ’s love and my knowledge, or any human knowledge, have never been peers, or stood within any measure of being comparable. Christ’s love has always exceeded my knowledge, or yours, or all of humanity’s combined. At the bottom of the rung of Christ’s love and the top rung of our knowledge of it lie an incalculable chasm.

The correct definition of “surpass” in Ephesians 3:19 is that one thing (Christ’s love) transcends the reach, capacity, or powers of another (our knowledge). So, Christ’s love for us transcends the reaching hand, available capacity, and weak powers of our knowledge. Or, to put it more plainly, the greatest reach of our knowledge, deepest capacity to learn, and keenest powers to know fall eternally short of comprehending His love. Period.

I can only know the infinite love of Christ when He makes it known to me, and fills my weak, shallow, groping mind beyond its ability to grasp, contain, or appreciate it.

Thankfully, His Holy Spirit will reveal His love to us. In fact, Romans 5:5 tells us that God’s love is poured out (abundantly) into our hearts by His Holy Spirit. So, the pressure is off. My mind and heart cannot strive for, or grab hold of the depth of the love of Christ. Rather, it is given freely by His grace and poured into my heart. It’s the same for you too.

Let’s circle back to last part of Ephesians 3:19. Paul longed for believers to have the fullness of God in Christ. Today, each of us still has that same desire. To receive God’s fullness requires that we must know the love of Christ. To gradually and increasingly — it’s not an event; it’s a process — know this we must first understand that we cannot know it on our own … because it is beyond our reach. So, in a sense, to gain fullness we must continually understand and embrace our emptiness of ability to know His love apart from Him revealing it to us through His Word and by His Holy Spirit.

In sum, realizing our emptiness precedes receiving His fullness. That makes perfect sense; a full container cannot be filled further. If we are full of ourselves, and an expectation that we can attain understanding or growth in Christ on our own, we will not see the need for the thing that we lack. When we see what is missing from or impossible for us, we can then take the first steps toward knowing His love and receiving His fullness. The road to fullness in Christ begins at the intersection of self-emptiness and surrender. It is an intersection that we do not like to approach, but it is where growth begins.

Here are some words of advice: if you decide to proceed to the intersection of self-emptiness and surrender, do not rush through the intersection; pause at the intersection, stop and sit on the curb … and linger there. The time spent there will make a difference later. A big difference.

Come Thou Fount…

 

The lyrics to this stout old hymn leave me in awe each time that I hear them. It is an awe for Christ, and an awe for the artfulness of this hymn. This hymn is a work of God-honoring art.

How can a hymn be a work of art? And, why is it that a good number of contemporary “praise” songs will never be seen as one?

Let’s see why:

  • This hymn is doctrinal broccoli–high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It’s the kind of stuff that you need, and can grow on, but will likely pass over for bacon. The modern day musical diet of many Christians is high on theological bacon that is loaded with flavor and fat, but low on the stuff that matters.
  • The hymn writer knew his role and place in God’s Kingdom. He saw things rightly –God is the deal, we are not. The request to “tune my heart to sing Thy praise” says so. Selah. Pause and chew on that broccoli…God please align and tune my heart (because it is severely out of alignment and tune) to sing Your praise (instead of my own which I enjoy and am habitually tuned to sing). ‘Nuff said.
  • In this hymn the strong cords of sound theology are over-woven with silken threads of poetic language. What a shame that Christians ape the lingo of today’s culture rather than using the grand gift of language to offer to God words of praise that are carefully chosen and fitly spoken, or sung, or prayed, or sighed.

This list could go on, but, brevity is the soul of wit. Let’s keep both soulful wit and wit-ful soul in tact by summarizing. What is present in this hymn, and many of its siblings, is good theology, mindful movement in thought, beautiful words and composition, and humility. This is what most contemporary songs lack, and are unfamiliar with. Other things are missing too, but Who is counting?

If my children gathered around me and said, “Dad, you are good because you are good to us, and do good things for us, and for loving us, loving us, loving us (x4).” I would wonder who was being honored, or if any honor was present at all. If they sang the chorus of this ditty four more times, and swayed with their eyes closed and hands folded, I would flee the room.

It’s a pointed point.

If my children said, “Dad, you are a good dad, because you are a good man, and your kindness and actions prove your character,” then I would be moved. Then, my heart would sing. But, Who is counting?

In Your Light

 

“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Psalm 36:9

His name was Arvil.  He was my grandfather, and my childhood hero. I spent a lot of time with him. Whenever possible, I was at his side. And, when he was hunkered down over one of his many projects, I would often be caught peeking over his shoulder. So many times my shadow would wander over his work and he would softly say, “Son, you are in my light.” That’s Southern speak for “you are blocking the light kid, move out of the way.” I was “in his light” a lot.

Psalm 36:9 is a little perplexing at first. It doubles a thought with one idea, or states an idea with the same thought twice. Make sense out of that sense. See what I mean?

This verse has a beautiful and poignant truth: it is in God that we know God. In other words, we cannot know Him outside of Him revealing Himself, His ways, and His will. God takes the first step, has the first intention, speaks the first word, and gets the first dance…every time. If He didn’t, we wouldn’t; we wouldn’t know Him, be able to, or care to do so.

Let’s see this truth in Psalm 36:9 with some other attributes of God substituted into it:

In Your:

  • love we know real love.
  • truth we comprehend clear and eternal truth.
  • forgiveness we know forgiveness and are set free

It’s a unique way to state something, and very effective once it is pondered upon and bathed in.

In John 1:4  we see this same manner of making a point or stating a truth with repetition, “in Him was life and that life was the light of men.”

Let’s butt this verse up next to Psalm 36:9.

This is not great exegetical work, but given that Scripture interprets Scripture, let’s lay these two verses beside, or even on top of one another here.

The light of men comes from the life of Christ, who is the Light of the world. So, in Jesus (the Light of the world) is the light of the world and the life of men. In this perfect, soul-changing, life-giving, truth-bearing Light is our life, and in Him we see this, and see His beauty and glory. It takes His Light to show us light, and to know what to know, and what to do.

Now, we see….

Son, you’re in My Light. Stay put.

The Main (non)Event

As a follow up to, or overflow from, my previous post on the difficulties of the Christian life, I want to offer some personal application.

All of us have expectations, pressures, and responsibilities that rest upon our restless shoulders. At times, the weight of these may feel like we are shouldering an Atlas-like load. Stress and responsibilities with work, family, and life in general are common to us all. This assumes that you are not a 23 year old skateboarder who buys his jeans three sizes too large, lives in his parents’ basement, and is the neighborhood X-box champion (though the other contenders are 13 year olds). If any of you fit that profile, here is some sage advice from the Ole’ Bearded Acorn: turn your ball cap around to face forward, shower, iron a shirt, and go leap into gainful employee, and into adulthood. Leap headfirst! Your mother and father will beam with nervously optimistic pride.

Back to life for the rest of us, real life — life that is trying and strenuous. When I am treading in deep water, there are a few things that I recall from the book of Philippians that provide some much needed buoyancy:

1 . According to Philippians 1:6 the Christian life is a process; it is not an event. Note the words “began” and “complete” in this verse (I assume that you looked it up). This shows that God’s work in us is an ongoing process. Some approach the Christian life as though it were a string of special events. There are some events – a sermon, a book, a conference, a mime skit (no, not really) – that encourage, shape, and edify us. Those are the exception that should be appreciated and not the rule that should be pursued. The geuine article is the ongoing, daily process of discipleship. Specifically, growth takes places as we read God’s Word, pray, walk in the Holy Spirit, and live wisely. It is a process that moves at the speed of osteoporosis.

Special events such as attending a conference or hearing an exciting speaker appeal to us. One of the reasons for this is that something is being taught to us, or done on our behalf; we are passive to the process, it is the speaker or teacher that is active. I am by no means saying that such events are bad. They are good, and helpful, but should never take the place of our own time in God’s Word and prayer. Events serve as supplements to the process of discipleship, they are not the meal. The pitfall for some is that they will try to live from event to event instead of bearing down on a day-to-day commitment to following Christ (see Luke 9:23).

Following Christ is a process, not an event, or series of events.

2. God is the one doing the work in you. Philippians 2:13 states that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” He does the “willing” and the “working” in you so that your “willing” and “working” aligns with His. We can relax and cease striving from religious exertion because we know that He began, continues, and will complete His work in us. We have to follow and be disciplined, but we do not drive or complete the work.

3. Knowing that He is at work and will complete it gives us a proper view. Namely, we begin to look at our circumstances and obstacles from an eternal, God-honoring viewpoint rather than a temporary, self-focused one.

Two weeks ago this distilled out in my thoughts. After a few days of internal and unnecessary churning over a stressful situation, the application washed across my thoughts: Everything is preparation for something.

The mental storm clouds broke and the downpour ceased. Whatever you or I face is preparation for building Christ-likeness into us for other things that we will bump up against in the future.

For a reminder of this stated in another way please see Eph 2:10.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” ESV

This verse tells us that we are created for good works in Christ. They are prepared beforehand. All that is waiting is our readiness to walk in them. That readiness, or preparation, does not come through flashy events, but rather through day-to-day faithfulness in following Christ.

For a hard time call…

“You are going to have a hard time in life,” he said. It was true then, and it’s still true today.

Those tough words won’t ever be the title of a popular Christian best seller. Heavens no. Heck no, too! As a side note — or sarcastic note — here are some titles that you might find on a Christian best seller list:

  • Happiness in Seven Minutes, or Less
  • Full life, full pockets
  • Raising Pets that Honor God
  • Fulfill all of your dreams: God dotes on you because you really are that special and deserve it

Snicker.
Sigh.

Pardon the hyperbole in the titles, but some “Christian” books suggest things that are almost this absurd. And they sell.

Back to life being tough. Who spoke those dreary words in the intro to this post? Uh, Jesus did. Dang.

We all like to receive good news. Personally, I prefer to hear the truth even more. If the two happen to be the same, then great. If not, that’s to be expected in this world. I am not a pessimist. I am far from it. I am an optimistic realist. Moreover, I try to be a biblicist. So, let’s see what the Bible has to say about a tough life for those who follow Christ.

Jesus said things to His early followers like:

  • “count the cost…” Luke 14:28-33
  • “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14
  • “In this world you will have trouble…”John 16:33

In Romans 8:18 and James 1:5, Paul and James add to this line of thought showing that the Christian life isn’t an easy meander from here to eternity. Rather, its a uphill climb, and at times requires some rock-climbing-like effort.

Being a genuine, biblical, non-bandwagon or trend-following Christ-follower means that you will endure some tough times as you live by faith and because you live by faith in Christ.

I don’t want to be a spiritual downer, but the Bible paints a picture that many Christian followers would like to keep swept under the rug. Namely, that the Christian life, though full of God’s best for us, is ripe with difficulty.

I want happiness, comfort, and ease as much as you do. But, those aren’t the primary components of the Christian life. Rather, Jesus promised peace, joy, and abundant living. Please don’t confuse happiness and ease (based on circumstances) with joy and peace (based on Christ and his provision for our needs). Happiness comes and goes like a vapor; joy abides forever, and it can also blossom during hardship.

The abundant Christian life is full of joy, gladness, peace, and purpose. Indeed, those very things are often borne during hardship, and raised up through difficulty.

So, for a hard time call…call yourself “His.” And mean it, and live it.

Know that through hardship comes growth, depth, and a strong message to others.

For example, in Acts 16:16-34, Paul and Silas were attacked, stripped down to their boxer shorts, beaten, thrown in jail, and locked down in stocks. All this happened because they were sharing Christ and upset someone’s apple cart. Please read those verses, it’s amazing stuff.

While in jail, and aching from their beating, Paul and Silas began to pray and sing hymns to God. The last phrase in Acts 16:25 is poignant, “and the prisoners were listening to them.”

The hardship that Paul and Silas had endured amplified their sincerity and steadfastness in honoring Christ. Keep in mind that they were not visiting the prison passing out Gospel booklets, or at home praying for those in the prison, they were in the prison because of their obedience to Christ. When genuine Christ-followers are steadfast during awful times, it points to the greatness of Christ, His promises, and His Holy Spirit. It also reveals to those who do not know Christ precisely what they do not have, or have to rely upon in their lives.

So, for a hard time call yourself “His.” It will lead to some hard times, but to even more great times.

The sign says

 

There are events that happen every now and then that seize my attention. And, they demand that I respond rightly. By rightly, I mean that I should take the time necessary to halt, soak in the event, and process it in a manner worthy of its presentation.

Here’s the story. We were on a pre-Christmas trip to Branson, Missouri. We were driving to the Branson Landing to do some shopping. Then, it caught my eye (for the record trees, rocks, the clouds, a hawk, anything of that sort tends to catch my eye). It was a tree that was strangely out of place. It wasn’t growing out of the ground; it wasn’t growing on top of a rock ledge; it was growing out of the rock ledge about 12 feet off of the ground!

So, I slowed the car, pulled off in an awkward location that would irritate other drivers, grabbed my camera, and bounded off toward the tree. I zig-zagged along the grassy roadside to the spot, and with cars whizzing by, and my family worrying about my safety and sanity, I took several photographs of it.

It appeared to be a red oak, and as I approached it, and positioned myself slightly under it, I was awestruck. It was grand. I hadn’t seen anything like this before. In the middle of a busy roadway, in a tourist town, grew an oak that was defying the rules. It was a small dose of wildness among sterile domestication; it was visually poetic.

 

 

image

 

As I backed away from the tree and took several more photos something unexpected crept into the viewfinder–a road sign.

 

image

 

The sign was telling drivers — and a nut like me (though I prefer the term “acorn” instead of “nut”) — not to go this way. Ironically, the red oak stood as a striking contrast to the sign’s message: “WRONG WAY.” The tree was growing the “wrong way” according to common sense and the usual practice of nature. It should have been growing on the ground where its roots could anchor and spread, or in a pasture, or anywhere other than out of a crevasse in a rock ledge.

I have no idea how the acorn that became this daring oak arrived in the gash in the rock ledge. Perhaps a suicidal squirrel dropped it there as it pondered leaping off the ledge. Who knows? I do know this: the acorn did what it was supposed to do in the location that it was placed in. Hmmm. This lesson needs little, if any, elaboration.

Psalm 1:3 states that the godly man (or woman) “is like a tree planted” by streams of water, bears fruit in his/her season, has non-withering leaves, and propers. Note the verb “planted.” The trees (godly men or women) in this verse are planted. You are where you are by design.

This rock ledge-defying tree was not planted alongside a calm stream of water. We usually aren’t either. Like this tree, we are to grow where we are planted. We often have to do it against the “rules” or the expectations of those around us. But we do it. We hold on, grow, drink in the water that God gives, and by His power we bear fruit, resist withering, and prosper. Even on a ledge.

Confirmation number 2929

From the last post you know about my New Year’s goal of looking up Bible verses — ones that I cannot immediately recall or recite — that I encounter while reading Christian books. That new exercise leads into this post. Last Saturday night I ran across a verse that I couldn’t pull out of my mental file cabinet.  So, I looked it up, and then soaked in it for about a hour. So it began…

We live in a society that is nosy, and exhibitionistic, which are a solid tandem for no-good. We often want to know what we can’t know, or shouldn’t know. Hence, the Facebook creeper, or other social media lurkers. This tendency can spill over into our spiritual lives. To be specific, we start trying to figure out what we cannot know rather than focusing on what we can understand and live out. Enter Deuteronomy 29:29. Ahem…look it up before you go any further. It’s a good habit.

The points –and they are pointed ones– in this verse are clear. First, there are things that we do not know, cannot know, and will not know…”the secret things of the LORD.” These secret things belong to the LORD. He is the owner of them. Or, put another way, these secret things are books that cannot perused, or checked out of God’s library. As David said, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain  it.” (Psalm 139:6) Ahem…you know what to do here.

So, the application here is to avoid spending time or energy chasing that which we cannot and will not know. While it is tempting, thrilling, and a natural part of our curiosity, and self-rigtheousness, let the things of God stay where they belong. Instead, let’s settle into humility and the contentment that comes with knowing His revealed Word, which we can know. Let’s use our time to pursue the thing that God intends us to pursue, namely, seeking Him in His written Word.

From the second part of Deuteronomy 29:29 it is worthy to note several simplistic, yet stout truths:

1. God reveals Himself in and through His Word. (Don’t take that for granted).

2. He did this intentionally. In this He makes Himself known, and brings glory to Himself, and edifies us.

3. He has revealed His Word to us, and enables and empowers us by the Holy Spirit to know, understand, and follow His Word (John 14:17  and 16:13). Look ’em up, it’s worth it.

4. We can have, understand, apply, and obey His Word. That’s the tune humming in Deuteronomy 29:29.

In a culture that loves recipes or steps to success, here is one: God has given His Word (and Spirit) to us to know, apply, and follow. He is glorified and pleased in this; we enjoy abudant life in Christ in this.

5. The result of Him doing this is so that we may do the “words of this law.” Deut. 29:29b

 

God has the secret things, and will keep them. He has freely given us more than enough in His Word to know and follow. Let’s not bark at and chase after the exciting unknowns, but rather settle into and study His revealed Word. Here’s a practical hint for doing just that: designate a quiet place, grab a pen and a note pad, and just do it each day. A hot cup of tea might help too.

Begin in Deuteronomy 29:29. You will get confirmation of these things there, and other things too.

Steak or vitamins?

Welcome back to the Bearded Acorn. Here’s something that has been percolating in my mind over the past few days. It all started with a New Year’s resolution. Yes, I know that we all make them, break them, then forsake them. It’s a tired pattern.

Oftentimes a New Year’s resolution —  also known as a New Year’s transient self-suggestion, or for the really undisciplined, a New Year’s wish-that-won’t-come true — is about a major change that we want to make. There are the usual ones such as weight loss, money management, time management, stress reduction, regular exercise, eating less cabbage, etc. These fade because major change is very difficult. So, with this in mind, I set a couple of minor goals for 2015. They are simple, and will take very little time, but will yield goodly results.

The first goal is to do push-ups (not the orange sherbet-flavored ice cream treat for kids) three nights a week. I have to do at least three sets each session. While I won’t ever be able to compete in a body-building competition with this work out system, it will be beneficial to a 40+ guy who tries to take pretty good care of himself. In that vein, I won’t mention my goal for getting 100% of my daily fiber intake each day. But, if you are interested in the reason for it, hopeful outcomes, and ways to determine success with this goal….well, just email me.

The second goal is small, somewhat bookish, but very beneficial. When I run across a Bible verse in my reading of Christian books that I cannot immediately recall to memory, then I will look it up, and study it.

Why do this? Here’s why: any book written about Christ, or the Bible, is a vitamin supplement to the Christian life; the Bible is the meal. Our singular source for eternal, infallible, unchanging, living truth is God’s Word. It’s steak for the soul. In 1 Corinthians 3:2 Paul tells the believers at Corinth that he fed them with milk, not solid food (also translated as meat), because they were not ready for it yet. Ahem…look it up for yourself.

So, here’s the point: don’t try to live on the vitamin supplements of Christian books, gorge yourself on the steak of God’s Word. Christian books are helpful, and have been invaluable to my growth as a Christ-follower. But, there is a tendency to spend more time in those books than in the Book. In sum, I want my reading in books that are secondary to the Bible to drive me back to the Bible, not keep me away from it.

Pushups, more fiber, and verses in books driving me back to the Bible, that ‘s my New Year. What’s yours?

By the way, this process drives the topic of my next post. Stay tuned….