Truth & Orthodoxy

Learning How To Handle Abundance

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My life is filled with good things. As I write, my sweet boy is crawling around the room babbling to himself, every now and then coming to check in with me, snuggle, and play. My two girls are still asleep after a late night yesterday— one of them stayed up to help me clean while waiting for daddy to come home. So I sit in a now tidied-up room in a home I love. I write with a relatively clear mind and healthy body. The sun rose again this morning as it does every day, and I remember its glory I witnessed during Monday’s solar eclipse. I hear footsteps upstairs now. One little lady is up and calling for me.

My life is filled to overflowing with good and sometimes I don’t know how to handle it. I don’t merely mean sentimentally, though at times my heart does feel so full it could burst. And I don’t mean how to handle all the cuteness of my fuzzy haired boy or handle the messiness caused by my energetic, playful, artistic girls.

What I mean is that I often struggle with knowing what it means to respond to all this good, or as Paul writes in Philippians, how to “abound” and “have plenty,” in a Godward way. It may sound like I’m overthinking things, and maybe there’s a hint of truth in that, but stick with me for a moment here. I have a hunch that I’m not alone in this.

A few weeks ago, I read a fascinating NY Times magazine article, “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age.” In it the writer shares an anecdote about how she decided to stop dieting only to realize she didn’t know how or what to eat. She writes about seeing a nutritional therapist and learning to eat in an intuitive-eating class. In it, they took small pieces of food, starting with a raisin, and learned to eat food as if they were “aliens who had just arrived on Earth and were learning what this thing called food was and why and how you would eat it.

Ever since Adam and Eve took of the fruit and ate it, our relationship with things of the Earth has been complicated to say the least. Because what God made is good, there is good in the world. The skies proclaim his glory, people reflect his worth. But with sin’s entrance came the distortion of good things.  Food is one example of this, but it is just one category among all created things has the potential to be confusing, twisted, or misused.

After the Fall of man, we have elevated created things to the place of God and misused what we have toward idolatrous ends. We are tempted to find satisfaction in people and things rather than God and to use them for our own glory.  Furthermore, with sin came an element of fearful anxiety cast over our days, the entrance of loss and risk in a world now inhabited by thorns. We make friendships, work, buy houses, and start families knowing we could lose everything we have in an instant. And even with all the good we have, in the back of our minds we are always aware of countless others who are presently suffering.

In a world East of Eden, filled with good things but also of temptation, uncertainty, and suffering, it is then a struggle to know how to handle the “good things” in life– the created things that God has declared good. Like someone learning to see a raisin in a healthy way, we often need to undo and relearn our relationship to created things.

Apart from God, we only see glimpses of the purposefulness behind the universe and all it contains. But as Christians, our relationship to created things is redefined by our knowledge of the Creator to whom, for whom, and through whom all things exist. And as we grow in the faith, God teaches us how to relate not only to trials in life, but to the good, the blessings he chooses to give.

For those who struggle with temptation, guilt, fear, or anxiety in dealing with good things from God, here are some ways to start rethinking and receiving God’s gifts.

Receive good from God as a gift. (Or, receive with thanksgiving.)

I’ve written about how when my son was born, I struggled with reconciling such enormous blessing from God with the suffering I witnessed around me. Why God, why such blessing? I wondered. And God’s answer to me was simply that he is a good God who gives good gifts (Ja. 1:17).

I cannot make sense of the good things I have because I don’t deserve any of it. But I don’t need to deserve it to receive them as gifts. I am called thus to turn to God in thanksgiving, to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. And when I meditate on the heart of the Giver, I am drawn to him not to his blessings as ultimate, but to see his grace and surrender to his wisdom.

Receive good from God as a sermon. (Or, turn to God in worship.)

God speaks through the goodness of created things. As a Creator, his nature is reflected in his works— his beauty in the skies, his abundance in supplying our physical needs, his wisdom in creating our bodies, his lovingkindness in the care of others.

Sometimes, in an effort to push back against the prosperity gospel, we neglect to see that though God speaks through suffering, he also speaks in his endless supply of good things. The sun rises and rain falls— that is a sign of his goodness to all creation, to both evil and good. The skies proclaim his handiwork, day to day pouring out speech, declaring his glory. We breathe in his air, we walk on his earth, we enjoy the company of others made by him in his image.

All the goodness in creation is a sermon meant to harken our ears to the Preacher and turn to him in worship. As one pastor said, we don’t honor the Preacher by ignoring the sermon (quoted here.) As we guard our hearts against thinking God only speaks in blessing us, we don’t need to ignore the ways he does speak to us in giving good gifts. Rather we can see his character in the things created and turn to him in worship.

Receive good from God as a postcard. (Or, long for home with hope.)

Because we live in a world where death and sin have yet to be swallowed up, our enjoyment of good is often tainted with sorrow. We are sorrowful over our inability to enjoy good gifts today with those who have passed on. We endure the uncertainty of knowing those we love aren’t guaranteed safety and longevity. We are aware that every vacation must come to an end, each peaceful stretch on life’s road will eventually come turn into a place of struggle. As another has written, the “prospect of pain threatens our pleasure.”

We live in the time in between Jesus’ resurrection and return, after the beginning of the restoration of all things, but not at home yet. And so, all of our enjoyment of created things, though real, is still a flicker. Our delight in God’s good gifts are in a sense still fleeting. The flickering and fleetingness, though meaningful and wonderful, point us to our lasting hope at the end of the road. Only at the return of Jesus will our joys never be followed with sorrow, our gains never threatened with loss.

The good gifts from God we enjoy today are “postcards from the lasting city that are meant to be handled, admired, passed around, stuck on the fridge.” They are truly good but they are still shadows of what is to come for those who believe in Christ. So we enjoy these postcards with great hope and anticipation of a place filled with only good and eternal joy.

Receive good from God as a stewardship. (Or, seek to be generous.)

Sometimes, when we consider our lack of merit in receiving good from God, we are tempted toward guilt and introspection. Who are we to receive such good? And while there is an appropriateness to feeling our unworthiness, we are not meant to stay there because all we’ve been given is not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of others.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to give generously so that their abundance may supply the needs of others. He references the Israelites gathering manna, saying “As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack’” (2 Cor. 8:1-15).

Rather than merely feeling guilty about our lives being relatively struggle-free compared to others or even fearing that the trials of others will come upon us, we are called to willingly enter into the suffering of others to bring relief. Whether this means having the time and emotional capacity to intercede for the hurting or financial means to give to someone who lacks, all we have has been allotted by God to us to use for others. We are merely stewards of the created things we have however much and for however long God chooses to entrust them to us.

My life is filled to overflowing with good. Little things like a curbside find of a like-new infant push-walker we’d mentioned would be nice to have but weren’t going to buy or opening up the fridge for a late night snack to find fried chicken wings Jeff brought back from church last night. Important things like our wedding anniversary we just celebrated, three sweet little people in our home, and a cherished church family.

And I am learning to receive all this good and more from our gracious God— in thanksgiving, worship, hope, and generosity.

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36)

Motherhood & Family, Truth & Orthodoxy

What A Daddy-Daughter Moment Taught Me About Fear And Our Father

During my second pregnancy, my struggle with anxiety led to sleepless nights and terrible nightmares. Though all the things I feared were hypothetical futures, I couldn’t help being anxious about the health and wellbeing of our baby. One night, as I lay in bed, there was a crash that came from the other room. I don’t remember what it was now but at the time, I knew it wasn’t a big deal. My daughter on the other hand, woke up and started to cry loudly for us. I saw her daddy (my heroic husband!) run in, scoop her up in his arms, and hush her back to sleep. That night, I recognized that I had just seen a small parable to God’s care for me and there was a paradigm shift in the way I handled my own fear and anxiety.

Though Jeff knew that our daughter was not in any danger and there was nothing to fear, he rushed to comfort her simply because she was scared. 1 Peter 5:8 was brought to mind, where we are told to cast our anxiety onto God because he cares for us. Up until that point, I had been trying to fight my own anxiety through telling myself reasons why I shouldn’t be afraid. First, there was nothing that indicated strongly that there was something wrong. And secondly, as a Christian, I trust that even if my worst fears came true, God would still use it for good, God still loved us, and he could be trusted. But still, I was afraid. Seeing my husband respond to our daughter even though he knew that the source of the scary sound wasn’t dangerous, I realized that the comfort offered by Scripture is not only that God cares about the things we are anxious about (i.e. that he knows what we need and will take care of us), but that God also cares about the fact that we are afraid. In other words, God does not only address my anxiety and fear by telling me why I should not be afraid, but he invites me to bring my fear and feelings of anxiety to him as his child.

I think that often, the way people (myself included) address fear and anxiety is inadequate because we think we can command ourselves or others out of being fearful.  Or we think that we can just logically reason our way out of it.  Or that having “enough faith” means being unafraid. In this, we miss the fact that life is scary. And we miss the tender words that God has for those of us who are easily afraid.

Jeff didn’t sternly correct our daughter when she cried because hearing a huge crash in the middle of the night and not knowing what it is when you’re only two years old — that is scary. In the same way, living in a broken and fallen world is scary. The world is not as God made it to be and is not yet what it will be when he returns, and so there is sickness, disease, suffering, pain, and death inevitably weaved somehow into all of our futures. Knowing that health and long lives and physical safety isn’t promised to those we love is scary. Stepping into relationships with sinful people who can (and will) hurt us is scary.  Having our eyes open to the fact that any sense of our own security in terms of physical safety, health, financial stability, etc. is really an illusion is scary. And, “don’t be anxious, just trust God more!” though well-intentioned is not always the most helpful thing for those of us with fearful hearts to hear.

It’s true that oftentimes, I need to see that my anxiety is stemming from illogical or unbiblical thinking. I may need to remember that “non-information is not information” (as my husband has told me) because I tend to fill in unknowns with worst-case scenarios. I may need to preach to myself from Matthew 6 about  how worrying doesn’t accomplish anything, how God provides all we truly need, how he cares for even the sparrows, and other precious truths such as these. But sometimes, though what I fear may not happen and I know God would pull me through it even if it did, the very fact that it could happen fills me with dread. In these moments, knowing and believing the truth doesn’t necessarily take away the fear I feel, and I am learning 1. that’s okay, and 2. what to do with the fear that remains. I am seeing that sometimes the most comforting thing is not  hearing why I shouldn’t be afraid, but knowing that when I am afraid, my Father is near, he loves me, and he’s got me.

In a short video, Is It a Sin to Be Afraid?, Ed Welch talks about the fact that the New Testament addresses fear not as a sin, but a given in a scary world, and how the fearful are tenderly called to turn to God in the midst of their fear. I love how he describes the passage in Luke 12:32 here:

The imperative form in Scripture has a little more breadth than we give it credit for…The passage in Luke ‘Don’t be afraid. Don’t be anxious,’ sounds as if it is a command and then it ends with this wonderful sort of conclusion. “Don’t be afraid”– there’s the command form, then it says “little flock” And as soon as it says ‘little flock’, it gives a completely different sense of the command. It’s “I know that you are vulnerable, I know that you feel defenseless and out of control in a very very difficult world.” “Please realize,” Jesus says, “that our God is a generous God who is not sitting far way while  his children are in distress. He’s the God who wants to give us the very kingdom itself.”

[…] There is an assumption that we are going to be afraid because there are perilous kinds of things– and there is one prominent question: When you are afraid, where will you turn? Will you immediately try to strategize to keep the fearful thing at bay, or will you turn to the Lord and simply offer some version of ‘Lord, help’?”

Indeed, one of the most comforting things we could ever know is that whether or not our fears come true, and whether or not we are right to be afraid, we have a Father who loves us, cares for us, and responds to our cries with his presence.  He calls us to call out to him with our fearful hearts. And what a comfort it is to know that our obedience to the instruction “Do not be afraid,” is not about keeping a stiff upper lip, but is simply our response as dear children to a Father’s loving invitation.

Truth & Orthodoxy

Wrath

From Tim Keller’s The Reason For God:

The Bible says that God’s wrath flows from his love and delight in his creation. He is angry at evil and injustice because it is destroying its peace and integrity. ‘The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made… The Lord watches over those who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy’ (Psalms 145.17-20).

It is at this point that many people complain that those who believe in a God of judgment will not approach enemies with a desire to reconcile with them. If you believe in a God who smites evildoers, you may think it perfectly justified to do some of the smiting yourself. Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, a Croatian who has seen the violence in the Balkans, does not see the doctrine of God’s judgment that way. He writes: ‘If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end to violence — that God would not be worthy of worship… The only means of prohibiting all recourse to violence by ourselves is to insist that violence is legitimate only when it comes from God… My thesis that the practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many… in the West. … [But] it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human non-violence [results from the belief in] God’s refusal to judge. In a sun-scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die … [with] other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind.

Jeff spoke this past Sunday on Matthew 11:20-30, about the wrath of God. It has stirred something in my heart and I feel like I am coming to become deeply moved by this attribute of God and realizing how foundational it is, though I am still working through it in my heart. Still, it is bringing me to a deeper worship for the cross and what Christ bore for us.

I have always been naturally a non-confrontational person. I have been sinned against, but, as of now, not so deeply as others in my life and in the world have experienced. People have been generally “nice” to me in my life, and this has been part of what’s allowed me to fight to keep my own sheltered, optimistic, and naive view of the world and of people. Not only that, but despite what I believed about the depravity of man, I strove to hang on to an, in practice, “people aren’t that bad” point of view. I didn’t want to hear about what others saw as wrong or anything that would damage my view of people that I respected or liked. I wouldn’t get angry about sin I saw, and not only that, I thought that I was spiritual, humble, and forgiving because of it.

In many ways my views have been shaped by the culture around me. My refusal to see the full depth of the sinfulness of sin has been encouraged by the importance placed in our culture to not be judgmental or, in Christian culture, to forgive quickly. Personally, that has affected the way I’ve dealt with forgiving people in my life and recently I have learned that only in admitting to being sinned against and not in making excuses for others do we actually start to feel what it costs to forgive. But more than that, I have realized how much culture has shaped my view of God and how I’ve talked and thought about him.

Looking back, I believe that I have subtly been influenced by reading/hearing from people who also don’t understand the anger, wrath, and justice of God. Things like, “Why can’t God just forgive?” (without the cross), even to the extent that there are those who would claim that the doctrine of substitution, if true, is “divine child abuse”. The culture around us talks about God’s anger and wrath as primitive, unloving, etc., putting those who claim to believe in the Bible on the defensive. I have heard and used ways Christians have tried to deal with it, but mostly in embarrassed or apologetic manner. Often the response would be briefly mentioning and explanation of God’s holiness, but then quickly moving towards “but he’s also loving!” or “hell is just separation from God because you don’t want God so he won’t make you be with him!” or “heaven is perfect so you can’t go if you have sin because then you’d sin against others”, etc- all answers that never really got to the heart of how to think about God’s anger or punishment.

In recent years though, as I have allowed myself to be brought to those places of rightful anger and in seeing the depths of the effects of sin, I have come to take solace in thinking about God’s wrath and justice. I am seeing that I cannot trust a God would claim to love what is good without hating what is evil. There are things that I think about that have been done towards those I love and know that make me so angry and sick to my stomach, that honestly in my heart I have wanted to see the wrongdoers suffer and/or die. I never thought that Romans 12:19 would mean so much personally to me, that I would be taking heart in the fact that vengeance is God’s and that he will repay.

In Death by Love, Mark Driscoll counseled a man filled with anger and bitterness towards his father who had been a violent, abusive, drunk whose whole family lived broken lives as a result. The man struggled to know what to do when way later in life his father accepted Christ. Pastor Mark exhorted him in letting him know that in forgiving, it was not letting his dad “of the hook”, but that “the demands of justice have been met for both you and your dad…Jesus has propitiated the sins of you both.” People who have abused and hurt people I know will turn to Jesus and be forgiven, the justice they deserve having been poured out on Jesus already- or they will face the consequences of their sin when they see God after they die. The same is true for myself. Either way, justice will be carried forth, sin brought to light, and the punishment for it dealt.

Jeff’s message’s main thrust was that we cannot understand the love of God without understanding his wrath. When thinking about those I know who have been deeply wronged, or wrestling with how to think about the nauseating things I’ve been hearing in class at Westminster about the nature and consequences of child sexual abuse, I am seeing how the only way to make sense of the world and sin is within the Biblical worldview. More specifically, it only comes to make sense at the cross. Nowhere else has the sinfulness of sin been shown to be as horrifying as it really is. There we see the depth of justice and rightful, righteous anger towards sin that isn’t just “let off the hook”. And there our minds are blown away- it just doesn’t make sense… that a righteous, holy, God, the only one who does not deserve wrath, would suffer for us. Not only that, but that he would lovingly pursue those who would reject the cross as unnecessary and seek to deny him.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

Romans 11:33