Two Deep Things


I can think of two things deep wounds and deep joy have in common.

One is that they’re both very hard to express. How do you communicate to another person that a single sentence or facial expression can strike you at your core? How a joke about your appearance or a raised eyebrow that reminds you of an abuser can devastate you inside, even though you might retain your composure until you’re alone? Or, on the other side, that the smell of tea or the sound of Christmas music can instantly transport you to the happiest moment of your life? How can you get across to another person the sheer weight of what you’re feeling at the moment that that scar or that joy is tapped into?

The other is that they both, in their own ways, point to eternity. Because nothing purely worldly can honestly bind those deep wounds. And nothing flush with sin (as even the best of this world is) can replicate those deep joys, not even (as C.S. Lewis said) the moments themselves, should we be able to re-live them; after all, it was the longing for some permanence like the grandmother’s embrace or the Christmas morning that made our hearts sing. It was the longing, not the smell or the sensation or the sound itself. These wounds and joys are signposts. 

The pains of my innermost heart, the insecurities I can’t even express and fears that strike me like a hot iron in the middle of the night, can’t be fully resolved by anything but the triune God. And the happinesses I most want to taste, the ones merely echoed in the cleanest, brightest moments of my childhood or most momentous occasions of my adulthood, aren’t going to be completely realized on this side of the eschaton. Pain won’t be fully left behind and joy won’t be fully consummated until the Lamb of Israel and Lion of Judah returns.  

Incommunicability and pointing to eternity: Two qualities our deepest pains and joys share.  

Two notes they both sing well, though on different sides of the shadow.   

30 Seconds of Christian Comfort

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Matthew 6:25-30

Comfort.  

The disciple of Jesus is supposed to feel better, sense that he’s more secure, after reading this from His Savior.  He should be comforted.

Now, Jesus is not saying that every single believer will be given more beautiful clothing than the flowers.  Why do I know that?  Well, Solomon himself was a servant of God, and Jesus just said that he wasn’t clothed as beautifully as flowers are.  And of course Jesus Himself died with His clothes on the ground below Him, being gambled for by wicked Roman soldiers.  And Paul, His greatest missionary, died penniless.  I have to assume his wardrobe was relatively sparse.

So what is Jesus saying?  How exactly is this supposed to comfort me if I’m a disciple of King Jesus?

He is teaching His followers that God cares for them more than He cares for flowers.  God cares for them.  

God almighty has an intention, a purpose, to care for wildflowers and grass and little birds.  And each of His children is far more valuable than any of them.  After all, the Father spent His Son to have them.

So, how do these words from Christ comfort a Christian?  They teach him two things:  (1) That he is precious to God Almighty, and (2) that this is a caring God.

And so whatever comes, the Christian can know it is for his good.

10 Seconds On Joy


Just straight Scripture, here.  

Jesus, to His disciples the night before He was led to the slaughter to save His people: 

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 

John 16:21-22

No one will take your joy from you.  

Amen and amen.  

60 Seconds On Joy

  
So here’s the thing about deep, abiding happiness, or “joy.”  It is ultimately going to be determined by the ability of whatever you’re living for to deliver on its promises.  

If the thing you look most forward to is retirement, your joy has a good chance of being severely constricted.  It’ll only last as long as the good, healthy part of your work-free golden years does.  It’s dependent on them.  

If it hangs on you achieving your career goals, it’ll be as fragile as your ability to be perfect.  

Even if you live for a capstone beauty like family or community service, you’ll be asking other imperfect humans to bear the sum weight of your total gladness.  

They can’t.  

The only One who can fulfill the human thirst for true joy is the One who authored that thirst.  Jesus Christ is the only entity in existence who promises only what He can deliver, and can deliver every good thing.  

No person or career or fantasy vacation can deliver unshakeable happiness.  They weren’t made to.  They aren’t the foundation the human soul was designed to rest on.  

The human heart was made to crave happiness like human tissues were made to crave water.  We’ll always seek it.  So trust in Jesus.  

Better to drink from a well than a mirage.  

Poisonous Root

  

I have known people who have chronic physical pain, at least one with intense back and hip problems, who still smile and generally speak to neighbors and family with warmth. I know at least two people who have vicious relatives they have to interact with weekly and yet who still treat the offending family member with grace and relative cheer. They help to support and care for people who insult them and condescend them and gossip about them, and they, by and large, still live out their lives and help these family members with a measure of joy and optimism. I know a person who has been through almost constant financial hardships for at least the last fifteen years, and who still talks to strangers at the grocery store and his family at holiday meals about how his life is good and how he’s grateful to the Lord for getting him through some (often very long) difficult times. I knew happy kids at a Christian orphanage in Haiti, a place where no one had jobs or plumbing, and where none of the kids had parents or what we would think of as a home.  

I know other people who start to remove joy from a room after a few sentences of conversation. Who view life as unfair (chiefly as it relates to them), and view themselves as having been subjected to a particularly, uniquely tragic existence.  People who are offended very easily and who forgive with great difficulty.  They overlook almost no wrong that is done to them, but their eyes somehow miss their own poisonous tongues and violent, heart-held grudges.  

What’s the difference between these two groups of people?  Why does the first set remain pleasant and hopeful through pain and the other become bitter or despairing?

Generally speaking, the answer doesn’t lie in the circumstances around them, but the kind of heart and attitude within them.   

Now, I am often in that second group.  I’m repenting of it and seeking Jesus’ grace for change in it, but I still often am.  But I’m blessed in that two of the people closest to me are in the first group, and as I’ve watched them go through every bit the pain I have (and if I’m honest, more), I’ve been forced to acknowledge that the roots of my bitterness and anger are my own sinful motivations and idolatries and sense of entitlement. 

The good part is that healing and forgiveness and change can happen when turning from my sin and believing in Jesus’ grace for me have occurred.  Repentance and faith can lead to the Holy Spirit’s changing the darkest, angriest parts of my heart.  

If you think you might be in that second group, I’ll exhort you with the same words I need to hear:  Resist the temptation to blame your circumstances for your sin.  Their may be legitimately difficult circumstances around you, you may truly be being harmed by others, but the heart is where sin comes from.  

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 

1 John 1:9-10

There is no forgiveness without repentance, and almost as tragic is that there is no change, either.  To continue to lay the blame for your anger, grudge holding, or gossip on the doorstep of your circumstances is chain yourself to that way of life indefinitely.  

Bitterness, like all sin, kills.  Kills relationships, kills the heart, and can even kill the body.  And of course, in the end, after eating your earthly life from the inside out, kills your soul by sending you to Hell.

But praise be to God that Jesus gives life.  Full-throated, self-spending, unimaginable life.  

By grace through faith in Him alone, Jesus can work back the poison of the bitter person’s heart.  Purer blood has never been bled, and it’s offered free of charge to every sinner who asks in faith.  

Trade death for life.  

It hurts, having that poison spilled from your veins, but a lot less than dying.  

Plus the good part lasts forever.  

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.

Hebrews 12:15

Two Deep Things


I can think of two things deep wounds and deep joy have in common.

One is that they’re both very hard to express.  How do you communicate to another person that a single sentence or facial expression can strike you at your core?  How a joke about your appearance or a raised eyebrow that reminds you of an abuser can devastate you inside, even though you might retain your composure until you’re alone?  Or, on the other side, that the smell of tea or the sound of Christmas music can instantly transport you to the happiest moment of your life?  How can you get across to another person the sheer weight of what you’re feeling at the moment that that scar or that joy is tapped into?

The other is that they both, in their own ways, point to eternity.  Because nothing purely worldly can honestly bind those deep wounds.  And nothing flush with sin (as even the best of this world is) can replicate those deep joys, not even (as C.S. Lewis said) the moments themselves, should we be able to re-live them; after all, it was the longing for some permanence like the grandmother’s embrace or the Christmas morning that made our hearts sing.  It was the longing, not the smell or the sensation or the sound itself.  These wounds and joys are signposts. 

The pains of my innermost heart, the insecurities I can’t even express and fears that strike me like a hot iron in the middle of the night, can’t be fully resolved by anything but the triune God.  And the happinesses I most want to taste, the ones merely echoed in the cleanest, brightest moments of my childhood or most momentous occasions of my adulthood, aren’t going to be completely realized on this side of the eschaton.  Pain won’t be fully left behind and joy won’t be fully consummated until the Lamb of Israel and Lion of Judah returns.  

Incommunicability and pointing to eternity:  Two qualities our deepest pains and joys share.  

Two notes the both sing well, though on different sides of the shadow.   


That Time My Joy Was Flimsy

  

I was sitting
across from a supervisor as he told me about my job performance.   I was hyped for this meeting, because I was pretty sure I was going to get the praise I had worked really hard for.  This was a job I had really given my all to.  I desperately wanted to succeed at this place.  I mean it was part of my identity.   For a long time I had poured a lot of my best efforts into this gig, and I honestly thought I stood out from the crowd.   I thought that people talked about how different I was from the others who had the same role as me, that I was a shining example of competence and diligence.  

He told me that I was performing a little below average.  

And that others had complained about me. 

And that things needed to change for me to keep the job. 

Man, believe me when I tell you I was crestfallen.  

I’m often reaping the results of putting too much of my heart’s hope in things that just can’t bear its weight.  And what I’m learning from experience and what I know from the Bible is this:  The more you invest your heart in things that can’t be spoiled, the sturdier your joy will be.

I’ve been bummed about having to re-think my calling or my place in the world, before.  And I’ve been depressed after sports heartbreaks (fresh wound:  the Bengals had a gutwrenching playoff loss to the Steelers Saturday night).  And I remember being pretty despondent after at least one election.  I’ve wrestled my whole adult life with the temptation to find my meaning and joy and hope in something other than Jesus Christ.  There isn’t a day that goes by, I don’t think, when I don’t at least momentarily love something or someone more than God.  

And it always ends badly.  It leaves my hope and my gladness in the hands of something temporary, something that can be taken from me.  Finding my biggest happiness in anything but Jesus is always a recipe for temporary happiness. 

Sometimes I obsess over the opinion my peers (or friends or enemies or relatives) have of me.  Sometimes I might worry and fret about a financial problem.  There are days I may just look forward to TV or food far more than I do prayer or time in God’s Word.  Whatever the thing is, I’m telling you this is a constant, hourly struggle.  

But I can’t give up the fight to find my joy and hope in God.  I have to keep at this.  Because if I don’t, if I surrender to the pull of this world and start putting my hope in created things rather than the Creator, I’ll be the worst kind of vulnerable.  I’ll be at the mercy of idols.  And idols make terrible gods.  Just ask the Old Testament Israelites.  

If my day-to-day joy is in Jesus Christ, then it can’t be decimated by housing crises, sports scores, job screwups, or overdraft fees.  If my deepest happiness is coming from the presence of the Lord God, it won’t have drastic fluctuations that are based on my circumstances.  It won’t be like the stock market, up and then down and then up again, virtually unpredictable.  It’ll be a strong, dependable thing, like the sunrise.  New every morning.  

Constant, sustainable joy can only come from an eternally good source.  If I want to have that, the kind of spiritual gladness that can get me through poverty or persecution or a child dying or a cancer diagnosis, it has to come from enjoyment in Jesus.  

This is a war I’ve had to wage daily for as long as I can remember.  And I’ve lost a lot of the battles.  But eternal joy is a weighty thing, so I’ve counted the cost.  And I’ve decided I’ll keep fighting to savor the only One who offers it.