Thoughts on Friendship

This weekend I will be officiating two weddings for young couples from White Fields. For pre-marital counseling, one of the resources I use is Timothy and Kathy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. One of the great takeaways from this book is that the foundation for marriage is “spiritual friendship.” On the topic of friendship, the book quotes several other authors. Here are some highlights:

Our need for friends is not weakness, it’s part of our design

Since God is triune in nature (one God in three distinct persons), creating us in His own image (“Let us create man in our image.” – Genesis 1:26), is by nature designing us for relationships. It is for this reason, that when God saw Adam alone in the garden without a companion,  God declared that “it is not good that man should be alone, therefore I will create a companion suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

What this is implying is that “our intense relational capacity, created and given to us by God, was not fulfilled completely by our ‘vertical’ relationship with him. God designed us to need ‘horizontal’ relationships with other human beings. That is why even in paradise, loneliness was a terrible thing.” (The Meaning of Marriage, 120)

The sifting hand and the breath of kindness

Two characteristics of real friendship are 1) constancy and 2) transparency.

One writer described friendship in this way:

the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person – having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away. (Craik, A Life for a Life, 169)

Oh, that there were more of this!

Seeing the same truth

C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Four Loves, writes about friendship and says that friendship happens when two people discover that they “see the same truth.”

Friendship, he points out, cannot be merely about itself. It, by nature, must be about something else, something that both people are committed to and passionate about besides one another.

“This is why,” Lewis says, “those pathetic people who simple ‘want friends’ can never make any.” Because there is nothing they want more than friends, but ironically, you cannot have friends unless you love something or see some truth that you are passionate about. “Those who have nothing can share nothing,” he points out, and concludes: “those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travelers.” (The Four Loves, ch. 4)

This is why the basis for Christian marriage is actually friendship: it is two people standing side by side, together with their eyes fixed on Jesus, and moving towards him. Anything less is an insufficient foundation.

Spiritual friendship, Keller concludes, is the greatest journey of all, because the horizon is so high and far, yet so sure – it is nothing less than “the day of Jesus Christ.” (The Meaning of Marriage, 127)

The Hurricane Has Become Human

N.T. Wright, in the introduction to his book, For All God’s Worth, writes:

How can you cope with the end of one world and the beginning of another one? Or the thought that the hurricane has become human, that fire became flesh, that life itself came to life and walked in our midst?

This, he goes on to say, is what Christianity is all about. And the question for us is: how ought we to respond to such news? The answer is: Worship. That is the only appropriate response.

What is he referring to?

In the Old Testament, when God appeared to the people it was often a terrifying experience. God appeared to Job in the form of a tempest (AKA “hurricane”). When God appeared to the people of Israel in the wilderness on Mt. Sinai, it was in the form of a consuming fire, essentially a fire-storm of lightning and fire on top of the mountain. The message was: God is inapproachable. To attempt to come near to Him would result in certain death… God even told Moses that if anyone would see Him in His glory, they would surely die.

And yet, the incredible message of Christianity is that in the person of Jesus, “the hurricane became human,” that the “fire became flesh” and “life itself came to life and walked in our midst.” And as a result of what he did, we have the promise and the hope of the end of this corrupt world and the advent of a new and better world to come.

To really understand this, Wright says, to take it seriously, means that the only appropriate response is “sheer unadulterated worship of the True and Living God and following Him wherever He leads.”

“Worship,” he says, “is not an optional extra for Christians, nor a self-indulgent religious activity. It is the basic Christian stance and the only truly human stance.”

Worship is not an optional extra for Christians, a self-indulgent religious activity. It is the basic Christian stance and the only truly human stance.

He goes on to say that many people view Christianity as a being something which gives them a sense of comfort and nostalgia. This should not actually be the case if someone really understands what Christianity is about. Rather than making you feel cozy, the gospel message is one that upturns every area of your life.

Wright says Christmas is a perfect example of this:

Take Christmas, for instance: a season of nostalgia, of carols and candles and firelight and happy children. But that misses the point completely. Christmas is not another reminder that the world is really quite a nice old place. It reminds us that the world is a shockingly bad old place, where wickedness flourishes unchecked, where children are murdered, where civilized countries make a lot of money by selling weapons to uncivilized ones so they can blow each other apart. Christmas is God lighting a candle; and you don’t light a candle in the room that’s already full of sunlight. You light a candle in the room that’s so murky that the candle, when lit, reveals just how bad things really are. The light shines in the darkness, says St. John, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Christmas then, and Christianity as a whole, is not about escapism, it’s about reality. It’s about how God has intervened in our world, and as a result, everything has and will change. The only proper response to this is to worship God for all he’s worth.

Part of that response, part of that worship, is to take up God’s mission. As John Piper says, “Mission exists because worship doesn’t.”

May we truly understand the weight of the Christian message: “the end of one world and the beginning of another” — and may we be moved towards this rhythm of response: Worship and Mission.

For more on worship and mission, check out these recent messages from White Fields Church:

Famous Last Words

Guatama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, is his final teaching to his disciples said this:

“Behold, O monks, this is my last advice to you: Work hard to gain your own salvation.”

Source: Buddahnet

Others have translated this sentence in this way:

“Strive without ceasing to earn your salvation”

Compare that with the final words of Jesus, who, as he hung on the cross, surrounded by his mother and a few of his closest disciples, said with his final breath:

“It is finished.”

The word he used: Tetelesti, is the word that a painter would use when he put the final touch on a work of art. It is the word you would use, when you make the final payment on your loan. It is a word which conveys a sense of satisfaction with an accomplishment.

Jesus was saying: “It is accomplished! What I came here to do: it’s done!” The implication is that there is nothing that needs to be added to it. He did it.

The thing which sets Christianity apart from all other religions and philosophies in the world, is that Christianity is about good news, not good advice.

Good advice says: here are some principles. If you follow them well enough, you will be saved.

Good news says: here is something that has been done for you, on your behalf, and as a result, you will be saved.

In Buddhism or Islam, for example, you are not saved by anything that Buddha or Mohammad did for you, you are saved by your own works; salvation comes by following the teachings or adhering to the pillars of the religion.

In Christianity, however, you are not saved by following the teachings of Jesus; you are saved by what Jesus did for you in His life, death and resurrection. In Christianity, you are not saved by your works, but by the work of God, in Christ, on your behalf.

In Christianity, you are not saved by following the teachings of Jesus; you are saved by what Jesus did for you in His life, death and resurrection.

Christianity is unique in that it says that your salvation is inextricably tied to historical events, which either happened or didn’t. If they didn’t happen, then we are wasting our time, Paul the Apostle argues in 1 Corinthians 15. And yet, all of the historical and anecdotal evidence points to the fact that they did indeed happen.

The gospel is good news, not good advice!

(For the rest of the message I taught on this subject at White Fields Church, click here.)

Good Friday: The Great Exchange

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The good news of Good Friday is that “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Because of that, we can rest from our labors of trying to justify ourselves, and we can revel in hope, because not only were our sins imputed to Jesus, but his righteousness was imputed to us.

This is what it means when it says: “For our sake, He (God) made Him (Jesus), who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

It’s the most astonishing exchange of all time: for those who receive Him (John 1:12), all of your sinfulness was placed on Him, and in return all of His righteousness was accounted to you.

Jürgen Moltmann puts it this way:

“When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finitude of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man’s godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him.” (from The Crucified God)

Moltmann goes on to say:

God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.

May your Good Friday be filled with reflection upon, appreciation for and response to what Jesus did for you on Calvary, the ultimate expression of God’s love for you!

 

The Pursuit of Happiness

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The Declaration of Independence contains this famous phrase:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Happiness is what all people are ultimately seeking.  Including you. Including me. You want to be happy. So do I.

If you really think about it, everything we do is, in one way or another, a pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is what motivates people to get married – or not to get married, to have children or not to have children, to choose certain careers or paths in life and not others. It is the reason people abuse substances – and even, as strange as it may sound at first, to commit suicide.

Philosopher and scientist Blaise Pascal said:

All people seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they always tend towards this end. The cause of some going to war and of others avoiding it is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object (happiness). This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
Suicide is the (very misguided!) belief, that one can escape unhappiness here in this life and hopefully find happiness wherever they end up. Still, even this terrible and tragic act is part of the pursuit of happiness.
Sometimes Christians have made a false distinction between happiness and joy. Here is what Joni Eareckson Tada has to say about that:
We are often taught to be careful of the difference between joy and happiness. ‘Happiness,’ it is said, ‘is an emotion which depends on what happens to you (a false etymology).’ Joy, by contrast is supposed to be enduring, stemming from deep within our soul, and which is not affected by circumstances surrounding us. I don’t think God had any such hairsplitting in mind. Scripture uses the terms interchangeably along with words such as “delight” “Gladness” “blessing” – There is no scale of relative spiritual values applied to any of these. Happiness is not relegated to fleshly minded sinners nor joy to heaven-bound saints.

If you ask the average person what they want more than anything else, they will reply:  “I want to be HAPPY!”   “It’s not the only thing I want — but it is at the core of the other things I want.”

If you ask people: “What do you really want for your kids?”  They will say: “I want them to be polite, respectful, successful, responsible” — but why?  Because what they really want is for them to be happy.  The reason they want all those other things for them, is because they believe those things will result in their greater happiness in the long run.
C.H. Spurgeon said this:
My dear brothers, if anyone in the world ought to be happy, we are those people. How boundless our privileges, how brilliant our hopes.
As Christians, in and through Jesus Christ, we have the keys to the happiness we desire and the joy we were made for.
Starting this Sunday at White Fields Church, I will be teaching a series titled: The Pursuit of Happiness, in which we will be studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians with a view of how Paul had the keys to happiness and an indomitable joy even in the midst of dark circumstances.
The graphic art above was done by CryBabyDesign. Check them out for all your graphic design needs.

Spurgeon Quotes

Charles Spurgeon’s hundreds of sermons are a deep well of eloquent and powerful quotes. Here are a few favorites I recently came across:

Calvinists are often criticized for not considering evangelism an urgent priority, since God is sovereign. Spurgeon was a Calvinist, but these were his thoughts on the importance of diligence in evangelism:

If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.

Spurgeon on the gospel which is worth living for, dying for and sacrificing for:

there used to be a gospel in the world which consisted of facts which Christians never questioned. There was once in the church a gospel which believers hugged to their hearts as if it were their soul’s life. There used to be a gospel in the world, which provoked enthusiasm and commanded sacrifice. Tens of thousands have met together to hear this gospel at peril of their lives. Men, to the teeth of tyrants, have proclaimed it, and have suffered the loss of all things, and gone to prison and to death for it, singing psalms all the while. Is there not such a gospel remaining?

Do you have any favorite Spurgeon quotes?  Leave me a comment below.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

This past Sunday I taught 1 Samuel 18 at White Fields (the audio of that message can be found here).

This is the story of Saul’s jealousy towards David, which leads him to begin a campaign to hurt David in order to secure his position of power and prominence in Israel. It is a story full of themes which are all too familiar for many of us, because they are so human.

Here are a few quotes from Sunday which are worth revisiting:

One of the main principles in this story is the fact that you can’t control how people treat you, and often-times you can’t control what happens to you, but you do get to choose how you respond to those things.

Ted Engstrom illustrates this principle well:

“Cripple him, and you have a Sir Walter Scott.
Lock him in a prison cell, and you have a John Bunyan.
Bury him in the snows of Valley Forge, and you have a George Washington.
Raise him in abject poverty and you have an Abraham Lincoln.
Strike him down with infantile paralysis, and he becomes a Franklin Roosevelt.
Burn him so severely that the doctors say he’ll never walk again, and you have a Glenn Cunningham who set the world’s one-mile record in 1934.
Deafen him and you’ll have a Ludwig van Beethoven.
Have him or her born black in a society filled with racial discrimination, and you’ll have a Booker T. Washington, and a George Washington Carver
Call him a slow learner, and write him off as uneducable, and you have an Albert Einstein.”

All of these people had terrible circumstances that they didn’t get to choose, that nobody would have ever chosen! But they didn’t crumble under these circumstances; instead, they responded well – and their circumstances ended up becoming an important part of who they would become and why they would be great.

The same is true of David. Men after God’s heart aren’t made in palaces, they are made in fields on cold nights, tending the sheep alone under the stars; they are made in caves, where the Lord is your only rock and fortress.

Gene Edwards, in his classic book ‘A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness’, writes this about David’s difficult circumstances:

David the sheepherder would have grown up to become King Saul II, except that God cut away the Saul inside David’s heart. That operation, took years and was a brutalizing experience that almost killed the patient. And what were the scalpel and tongs God used to remove that inner Saul from David’s heart?  God used the outer Saul.
King Saul sought to destroy David, but his only success was that he became the instrument of God to put to death the Saul who roamed about in the caverns of David’s own soul.

Edwards goes on to say:

God is looking at the King Saul in you.
“In me?!”
Yes, Saul is in your bloodstream, in the marrow of your bones. He makes up the very flesh and muscle of your heart. He is mixed into your soul. He inhabits the nuclei of your atoms. King Saul is one with you. You are King Saul! He breathes in the lungs and beats in the breast of all of us. There is only one way to get rid of him: he must be annihilated.

You don’t get to choose your circumstances, but you do get to choose how you respond.  When life gives you lemons… may God help us to respond well!

What is the Scope of Salvation?

One of the things I’m intrigued by in the Bible is the meaning of salvation. I have noticed in myself and others a tendency to settle for a narrower understanding of the scope of the salvation that is promised to us in Jesus than the fullness of what is found in the scriptures.

Of course this is not to distract from or undermine the central concern for our relationship with God and our need to be put right with him (justification). But when you see the scope of salvation in the Bible, beyond saving us from damnation, it is exciting!

For example, in chapter 19 of the Gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus, having spent years ripping people off, turns to Jesus and repents of his greed and sin, and also shows signs of true repentance when he gives back the money he ripped off to the people he took it from, even though it may have happened years prior – and Jesus declares: “salvation has come to this house today” (Luke 19:9). Salvation for Zacchaeus was salvation for his soul, AND deliverance from bondage to vain things AND salvation unto a new course in life as a disciple of Jesus – which inherently means taking an active role in God’s mission to bring salvation to the world.

The very name Jesus means “Savior”!  Here are some quotes on the meaning and scope of the salvation that’s found in Jesus:

Salvation itself, the salvation Christ gives to his people, is freedom from sin in all its ugly manifestations, and liberation into a new life of service, until finally we attain ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God. (J. Stott, Christian Mission in the Modern World)

 

In the Old Testament the word ‘salvation’ speaks of ‘shalom’, or complete wholeness of being, in every dimension of life. (A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah)

 

The three tenses of salvation – past, present and future – are united into an organic whole; they may be distinguished but must not be separated. The salvation that the gospel proclaims is not limited to man’s reconciliation to God. It involves the remaking of man in all the dimensions of his existence. It has to do with the recovery of the whole man according to God’s original purpose for his creation. (R. Padilla, Mission Between the Times)

 

The full gospel brought by Jesus Christ is both salvation from sin and salvation into the capacity to be fully human and truly free. (D. Webster)

Exciting? I think so.