Kiss the Wave

Originally written to a friend in 2013

Charles Spurgeon said that, “I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the Rock of Ages.” Spurgeon acknowledges that there are trials in life and he has come to accept them, but he’s not a fatalist in his acceptance. He embraces the storms of life because he knows that what they result in. As Hebrews 12 says, God disciplines those He loves for our good so we may share in His holiness, and James 1:2 says to consider trials pure joy because they lead to maturity. Spurgeon does not miss the forest for the trees. He greets his trials with a kiss, which of course does not make them any less of a trial, but shows that he knows that without those trials he would not be drawn quite as close to Christ.

It’s not a mindset we are born with- hence Spurgeon “learning” to face his trials with a kiss. It takes a lot of time to learn to embrace that which brings us pain, but it is ultimately that which brings us life, and we would do well to learn from the wisdom of Spurgeon.

Everyone on earth will face trials, suffering, and hardships. It will break a lot of people and it will cause a lot of people to despair. There will be more people who let their tears add to their waves than those who greet their waves with a smile because they push them towards Christ. Which will you be? -M.

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Kiss the Wave

“Nothing. Hallelujah!”

Originally written to a friend in 2013

While dying from cancer in 2000, Dr. James Montgomery Boice penned a hymn based on Romans 8:38-39. Each stanza was written as a question, and the answer was given in the refrain of “Nothing! Hallelujah!”  The last verse provides the essence of the hymn. “We face death for God each day; What can pluck us from His way? Let God’s people ever say, “Nothing.” Hallelujah!”  Nothing. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, nothing can separate us from our eternal home with Him, and nothing can separate us from victory in Him. Such confidence only comes from belief in His character. If you do not believe that God is who He says He is-believe and not just know-you will not be able to stand firm in faith on a daily basis. If you live with the confidence that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate you from the love of God then you will live freely, knowing that every day you wake up, no matter what you did the night before- good or bad- God is pleased with you and loves you because of what Christ has done, not because of what you do or have done. Not to say that what we do does not matter, but we need to recognize that we are not guilty anymore, and we live not under a strict list of dos or don’ts, but under the knowledge of what Christ has done and we can raise up from our burdens and lift our arms to heaven in praise and act in a way that brings a smile to the face of our Father. Hard to comprehend, easy to forget, but revolutionary in the sense that Christianity is the only religion where the performance comes after the verdict. That is gospel living. That is living that comes from believing that nothing can separate us from the love of God. -M.

“Nothing. Hallelujah!”

Learning to Confess With St. Augustine

Confession may very well be the lost art of the modern church. In our individualistic society, churched people may not feel the need to “air out their dirty laundry” with others. Why take the risk of being judged, criticized, and exposed as a sinner in front of everyone? This may be because our view of confession, its reason, and its importance have been either twisted or forgotten. However, it should be noted that a church’s doctrine of confession has great influence on its doxology and ultimately its view of God. Augustine of Hippo’s retelling of his life and conversion in the book Confessions is one way he stressed the significance of confession of sin, faith, and praise within the church and in the lives of individual believers.

Most would read Augustine’s Confessions and think that such a life should not have been put on paper for public consumption. A licentious man, Augustine lived to satisfy his flesh until God revealed himself through his word and Augustine’s life was radically changed. As Christians, we tend to push our sin under the rug and urge others to do the same and never bring them out again. It has been said that telling too much of a person’s rebellious actions can glorify the sinner and not the Savior. However, Augustine argues that confession of sin brings glory to God, for he is magnified when we are humbled. David Wright says, “[Augustine] confesses much sin and error—but only to magnify the ever-resourceful grace of God.”

Augustine explores the different forms of confession in his book. Confession does not just refer to disclosing one’s sins, but it is a declaration of faith and a discourse of praise. On this subject Augustine wrote, “First accuse thyself, and having accused thyself, praise God” (Ps. 147;Exposition on the Psalms). Therefore confession means recognizing sin, announcing who is Savior, and giving all the honor to Christ. Augustine’s confessions were endless and, for him, such extensive acknowledgment of guilt was a necessary step toward his theology of praise. This implies that confession does not stop at conversion but is a daily habit—both private and public—that compels a sinner to praise the Savior. Augustine wrote, “my confession is made both silently in your sight, my God and aloud as well, because even though my tongue utters no sound, my heart cries out to you” (Confessions, 208). Fundamentally, confession is admitting depravity and not crediting salvation to oneself. Without constant confession of sin, humans tend to believe they are more righteous than they really are. Confession forces us to admit our dependence on Christ.

Augustine’s Confessions begins with quotations from two psalms that praise the Lord (Ps. 145:3; 147:5). This is the heartbeat of the rest of the book. Confession leads to a declaration of faith, and faith should result in praise. Confession and praise should go hand in hand, and Augustine’s book is a vivid example of this. You will find no ulterior motive in Confessions, no plot for gain or fame—merely a sinner recognizing his reliance on the God he wishes to honor fully.

Confession should always be grounded in the grace of Christ. If we avert our eyes from the cross, we will use confession as a means of self-righteousness. We will forget it is only through grace that we even have a conscience and renewed mind. We will not consider that the forgiveness that comes from confession is through Christ, and we will overlook how much we need Christ to be our righteousness alone! Confession helps the fallen human understand his sinful state before God and that it is grace and only grace that we are declared righteous before God. Confession should never generate guilt, but should cause us to constantly look to the freedom we have in Christ. We have the freedom to confess our sins knowing that they are already covered by the blood of Christ. Confession should lead to reconciliation, first with God and then with others.

Augustine mused on the merits of confessing to others and finally resolved that “[w]hen others read of those past sins of mine, or hear about them, their hearts are stirred so that they no longer lie listless in despair … they are glad, not because those sins are evil, but because evil is now evil no more” (Confessions, 209). This should also be our desire in confessing sins to others.

Within the church, confession shows the congregation’s identity to the world and where we find our rest. Augustine said, “This is the goal of my confessions, not to make known the sort of person that I was, but the sort of person I am” (Confessions, 210). When the world sees a truly confessing church, they will wonder at the strength beyond human capacities that provides such life transformation. When we say “I was that but God made me this,” the glory goes to God and not to human achievement, while a non-confessing church may come across as hypocritical for not declaring why the lives of its congregants are set apart. The unbelieving world knows human weakness—and it knows that changing patterns of life is difficult and often impossible and seldom accompanied by peace and joy. What the world does not know is Christ the Savior who can provide lasting change, joy, and peace, in spite of our human frailty.  In essence, it is hard to communicate God’s greatness apart from confession.

Though confession is beneficial to the uplifting of the church and the sanctification of the soul, there are a few cautions that must be communicated, first to the confessor and then to the congregation. Confession should only lead to Christ-magnification and completely avert attention to the self. If a person confesses his or her sins to the church in order to appear humble or great, they have missed the point. They ought to confess their sin of pride privately to God before confessing among the congregation. Confession should be a reflection of a contrite spirit; therefore pride has no place in it.

Next, confession must be met with love; otherwise it merely generates judgmental people. A church must understand that the purpose of confession is not to honor a person but to proclaim the character of God. Each confession in the church should be met with nothing other than praise to God for his generous mercy, and the focus should always shift from the sin to grace, from sinner to Savior. On this Augustine said, “No small good is gained, O Lord my God, if many offer you thanks for me and many pray to you for me” (Confessions, 209).

Confession is a beautiful act that shows our dependence upon God’s grace. Drawing on Augustine’s teaching, Carl Vaught even suggests that the absence of confession could distance humans from God in their daily living. The church needs to rediscover the doctrine of confession and recognize its merits. As Augustine observed, God has made our hearts restless until they rest in him (Confessions, 21). Confession helps us lay aside that which is making us restive and be at peace with our Lord and with others. The beautiful doctrine of confession should lead to a sweet understanding of God’s grace. Any church would do well to adopt this perspective and incorporate confession into the lives of its congregants. -M.

Originally Published in 2013

SOURCES

Augustine. Confessions. Trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin. London: Penguin, 1961.
Augustine. Exposition on the Psalms. CCEL, 13 Jul. 2005. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.
Vaught, Carl G. Access to God in Augustine’s Confessions: Books X-XIII. Albany: State University of New York, 2005.
Wright, David F. “Book Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Christian History, 1 July 2000. Web. 17 Apr. 2013.

Learning to Confess With St. Augustine

Lovingly Ignorant

One of the most overlooked elements of love is knowledge. St. Augustine drags this concept into the light by asking the confronting question, “who can love what he does not know?” However, many people love ignorantly in all areas of their life, and some Christians live as if the knowledge of God is optional if love is present. Perhaps this is a result of our culture’s capitalization on experience and feelings, or the fear of intellectualism. Perhaps it is because postmodern evangelical churches sees spirituality in highs and lows. Perhaps it is our own disobedience to and disregard for the Lord. Despite origins, the truth remains that the knowledge of God has a negative stigma in this age to many believers.

If you love someone you will take the time to get to know them. Why then, do we claim to love God yet not seek to know Him? F.J. Sheed says on this that, “A virtuous man may be ignorant, but ignorance is not a virtue. It would be a strange God who could be loved better by being known less. Love of God isn’t the same thing as knowledge of God; love of God is immeasurably more important than knowledge of God; but if a man loves God knowing a little about Him, he should love God more from knowing more about Him: for every new thing known about God is a new reason for loving Him.”

Throughout Scripture is the command to know God, to know about Him, to know His attributes, His works, and His Scriptures. John 17:3 says that eternal life is knowing God. Throughout Scripture there are many prayers offered that the children of God would grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  Knowledge of God may start out in basics, but it should never end there, for the knowledge of God is something that increases (Colossians 1:10). Knowing God changes one’s view of sin, holiness, church, possessions, people– your very life will be shaped by the knowledge of God.  J.I. Packer says, “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfold, as it were , with no sense of direction, and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”

A flippant view of our command to know God is an internal threat to Christianity. Proverbs 19: 2 says that. “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” Romans 10:2 echos this, saying ”For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.”  It is a beautiful thing to have a zeal for the Lord that stems from a knowledge of who He is. It is a folly and misstep to be blinded by passion with no thought of where to place it or why it is there.

If the greatest commandment is to love God with all our capacities, including the mind, and true love involves deep knowledge, then a causal view of pursuing the knowledge of God is immediate disobedience to the first commandment. How sinful we are when we fail to know God! It is a subtle evil of postmodernity that whispers that knowing God is not vital to loving Him. What foolishness–  You can’t have one without the other! God is love, so knowing God is knowing what love itself is (1 John 4:8).

Be careful where you find your happiness, for this is where you place your love. Be careful where you place your love for this will determine how you spend your time. How your spend your time will reveal how much weight you give to your relationship with God. Do you seek to know Him? You will spend the appropriate time to do so and you will seek to know Him deeply. If you claim to love God you must also pursue the knowledge of Him. -M.

More Scripture:

2 Peter 1:3, Hosea 4:6, Hebrews 8:11-12

Works Referenced:

Augustine, Edmund Hill, and John E. Rotelle. The Trinity. Brooklyn, NY: New City, 1991.
Print.
J. Sheed, Theology and Sanity (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1946), pp. 9, 10.

Lovingly Ignorant

The Dread or the Comfort

As the Christmas season wanes, I am still pondering the concepts of Emmanuel and Omnipresence.  There are two ways we are compelled in the knowledge of God being with us at all times. One way pushes us towards fear and the other towards comfort.  Some may see God’s omnipresence in a Kris Kringle manner. God sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake, and knows if you’ve been bad or good. He will repay you with just reward, so be good for goodness sake! Yes, this view of God is a moral police officer, and there is no force behind this fearful drive to be good other than the terror of being caught or perhaps the promise of a few blessings.

While there is some healthy fear that should arrive through a knowledge of God with us, tallying goods and bads is not the act of a loving father. The other, and I believe more appropriate way, we can respond to Emmanuel is through the knowledge that God sees us at every angle and that does not budge our standing with Him one ounce. It is easy to try to please someone from a distance because they don’t see you at your worst or even often at your normal, but try to please someone who knows you inside and out and the odds of pleasing them decrease. In fact, looking at the wretchedness of my own heart, that may be impossible.

However, we can rest assured that we never have to work to please Someone who is already pleased with us. We know that He has seen everything about us, and recognizing the sin that held us apart, He let that be no obstacle to His love but bridged the gap Himself (Ezekiel 22:30), putting our sinful deeds behind His back (Hebrews 8:12), and clothing us with His righteousness (Isaiah 61:10). He is now pleased with us not because of works done by us in righteousness but by a the work of His Son (Titus 3:5).

There is something incredibly freeing and hopeful about knowing there is Someone who knows absolutely everything about you and loves you regardless. A God who is omnipresent and available at all times like a loving father who watches over his child. We are able to draw near to Him because He first drew near to us, no longer dreading the consistent presence of God, but finding it incredibly wondrous to have a friend, counselor, Father, and Savior at our side at all times no matter how we feel we should be treated.

Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, God with us. Truly, it is a reason to rejoice.

-M.

The Dread or the Comfort

Birthdays and Funerals

I’m having what they call a “birthday” this coming week. For me, each birthday brings about memories of the year just experienced, anticipates a new and hopefully better year, and involves celebrating with loved ones. Birthdays are much different than funerals. I think most people would say they would rather go to a bad birthday party than a good funeral any day. Each funeral brings about a recollection of old memories, giving up hopes of future memories, and involves mourning with loved ones. With good reason we rarely find ourselves celebrating at a funeral. But with good reason, as a believer we should see our funerals to be more greatly anticipated than our birthdays. It is a strange but not unfamiliar concept in Scripture.

Ecclesiastes 7:1 proposes that, “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” A child just born has made no lasting stamp upon the world and no reputation has yet been established, but death solidifies the reputation developed during the life. On the day of birth a child enters into a world full of sin, strife, and pain, but the day of the Christian’s death we are ushered into holiness, peace, and joy found in our Redeemer. Because we bear the name of Jesus, a name better than precious ointment that will be remembered and even exalted in death (1 Peter 4:16), we can gladly join in and say that the day of our death will be a glorious one indeed.

Christ has gone through and defeated the power of death for us, so that we have nothing to fear. We will face death like Jarius’ daughter, who died and though all around her thought all had ended, Christ came to her not in a rush of fear that death was overpowering, but because he had power over death, in His perfect time He took her by the hand  and raised her up to new life.(Mark 5:35-43). Psalm 116:15 says Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints,” if death is so precious to the Lord, how precious should it be to us as well?

Paul affirms this view of death, saying “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). How could death be gain? A man loses his life, his family and friends, his work, his home and his earthly possessions when he passess away. How deceived we are, for the death of a believer is far from the hideous shrieking death those who are unregenerate face. The death of the Christian is a most beautiful fate! He gains everlasting, renewed, abundant life, he wears a golden crown and walks on streets of gold, he sees and dwells with his Savior, and has gone from a foggy mirror to face-to-face. In death, a life once wrought with sin will be wrapped in Christ’s holiness.

His victory has become our victory and we partake in His resurrection so that on the day of our death we will not fear, for Christ has gone before us even in death and will gently draw us to him (1 Corinthians 15:53-56). Yes, birthdays are joyous occasions, but even more joyous is the day of the believer’s death, for then Christ will take them by the hand and never forsake them even through the grave, for the death that once brought fear serves now to be our advantage for then we will see Christ face to face (Hebrews 2:14-15). -M.


1 Corinthians 15:54-55, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Birthdays and Funerals

Exalted to Our Fall

A tragic Greek myth relays the tale of a skilled craftsman who invented wings made of wax and feathers in order to escape captivity with his son. As father and son flew to their freedom, Icarus paid no heed to his father’s instructions to abstain from flying too close to sun and this caused the wings to melt, resulting in a fatal fall into the sea.

It is obvious that Icarus was a foolish child who used his father’s gifts to take him places he was never intended to go, and this caused his downfall.

Maybe not quite so blatant is that quite often we are foolish children who use our Father’s gifts and take them places they were never intended to go and this causes our downfall.

God and has brought us from captivity into freedom, (Isaiah 61:1)and is the Giver of good things (Matt. 7:11), but our sinfulness has shattered our appreciation for those gifts. Whether the gifts be material or immaterial, we have a way of thinking we deserve what God gives us  and proceed to use those same things for our own exaltation or worship. We revel in hubris– excessive pride and arrogance.

We take gifts that are meant to be means to glorify God and we see them as an end in themselves,  inverting their importance and purpose. We praise the gifts rather than the Giver because we adore the way they can make us seem better in our own eyes– if God has given us a box we would probably stand on it to make ourselves feel taller. Romans 1 explains this as unrighteousness: God has revealed Himself in many ways (vs. 20), people reject God  in ungratefulness, (vs. 21) they exalt themselves falsely (vs.22), and choose to worship the creation rather than the Creator (vs. 23), and this causes their downfall (vs. 18).

Our pride and idolatry is rampant. God has given us the ability to reason, and we attempt to reason Him away, God has given us the gift of language and we use it to gossip and slander, God has given us money and we covet and splurge on unnecessary items, God has given us an appreciation for beauty and we tumble into lust or envy, God has given us responsibility and we revel in power or pride. God has given us emotions and we let them dictate the way we live. God has given us food and we become gluttonous, God has given us possessions and we become materialistic. We as depraved humans are able to take any of the good gifts God has given us and distort them, even as those who claim to be worshipers of Christ.

An oft-quoted verse  warns that, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18), and Proverbs 18:12 reaffirms this, saying, “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty.” Let us be warned that when we take selfish ownership over God’s gifts, the pride that exalts us will  ultimately bring us low, and we must not see this as unjust but recognize it as God’s grace. Consider it a blessing that unlike Icarus’s father who was unable to prevent his fall, our Father is a Savior who is in control of even the fall and teaches us to know that idolatry end in sorrow and that there is true joy in  true worship (Ps. 16:4& 9-11). In God’s desire to see His own glory and our holiness,  He may discipline us and let us reap the consequences of our idolatry, pride, and selfishness (Gal. 6:8), even though it may be painful (Heb. 12:11).

There is much hope in this though, for as Augustine observed, we have restless hearts until they are embedded in Christ. Things that were never intended to satisfy us will always leave us restless for something deeper. The more often we worship God’s gifts rather than God Himself, the more we instill a void of discontentment in ourselves. Perhaps if you are in a place of discontentment, it would be wise to observe the way you handle the gifts you have received, for true contentment comes from  resting our hearts in Christ and knowing that if all else on earth fails, He promises to be with us always (Matt. 28:20, Deut. 31:6).

To guard against a misuse of God’s gifts, we must  “set the Lord always before [us]” (Ps. 16:8), behold the loveliness of His face, and see the gifts He has given us as grace upon grace, for we have already received far more than we deserve through the gift of salvation. With eyes set firmly on the Savior,  you will not be distracted by the gleam of the sun or be carried away in improper handling of God’s gifts. Recognize that all “good and perfect “ gifts (Jas 1:17) are from God and are for His glory and receive them in humble thankfulness, lest you, like Icarus, are using your Father’s gifts in an unsuitable manner and exalt yourself to your own destruction. -M.

Exalted to Our Fall