Saturday, August 11, 2007

Jesus Is Just Alright With Me

"'s alright." Those words have the power to drive me nearly insane. To hear them spoken of a cherished book or a beautiful dress is almost unbearable. In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne cries out in similar frustration to her mother, “To hear those beautiful lines, which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness—such dreadful indifference!” Marianne strikes upon something I think we have all felt. When a thing we love is not treated with the whole-hearted, passionate adoration we believe it deserves, something within us rebels. We are indignant when a praiseworthy object is left unpraised. Adore it or loathe it, but do not simply tolerate it!

And yet, how often do I apply this very same principle to my personal relationship with God? Realistically, it is of no consequence if someone fails to produce what I deem is the "proper response" to one of my earthly affections. What should I care if my friend gives a favorite movie only three stars? It’s small beans. On the other hand, my opinion of God is an unbendable issue. He’s the only One worthy of total devotion. But with a nod of acknowledgement, I am saying, “Umm…God, You’re alright”; as if He were a choice dessert or hit song. I wade in apathy where I should rightly dance with zeal.

Unlike me, missionary-martyr Jim Elliot cried to God for passion:

“God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. God, deliver me from the dread asbestos of 'other things.' Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame. Make me thy fuel, Flame of God.”
Nothing lukewarm there. Can I really say that my love is such a consuming fervor that nothing else matters? That I attribute to Him the adoration and praise He so greatly deserves?Sam Storms put it well, when he wrote in his book One Thing: Developing a Passion for the Beauty of God,

“Apathy is impossible in the presence of the Son of God. Ineffable beauty compels a response: either passionate devotion or hatred. Middle-of-the-road,straddle-the-fence, you-do-your-thing-and-I’ll-do-mine indifference dies when Jesus draws near. Love Him or despise Him, but abandon the myth that He can be tolerated. Sing for joy or spit in His face. Apathy simply isn’t an option.”
Dwell on those words. Passionate devotion—or hatred. There is no room for a response less than the extreme. Christ wants all of ourselves: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) Not part of the time. Not mildly or insipidly. Just as Christ gave us His everything, our everything is demanded in return. It’s radical, fanatic, obsessive, and unreserved. It’s a love that shouts from rooftops, to the God who is never merely “alright.”

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Brain Food

I wonder, how often we are too easily pleased by the approval of mere men...

...rather than delighting in God Himself.

"Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with...ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

We are far too easily pleased."

-from The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Jesus, Cast A Look On Me

I was shocked when I experienced my first struggle as a believer in Christ. Martyrdom and persecution were, in my mind, the struggles of true Christians. I expected the world to dramatically oppose my faith, but for some reason didn't anticipate the day-to-day challenge of fighting the sin in my own heart. (Oh, how naive can I be?) Because of this, I am incredibly encouraged by brothers and sisters in Christ who have walked the same path, yet still testify of God's grace to overcome.

This hymn is one I heard recently for the first time, expressing the cries of a believer longing to be like Christ. It is a reminder of why we're fighting and of the faithfulness of the Savior who fights by our side:

"Jesus cast a look on me,
Give me sweet simplicity
Make me poor and keep me low,
Seeking only Thee to know

All that feeds my busy pride,
Cast it evermore aside
Bid my will to Thine submit,
Lay me humbly at Thy feet

Make me like a little child,
Of my strength and wisdom spoiled
Seeing only in Thy light,
Walking only in Thy might

Leaning on Thy loving breast,
Where a weary soul can rest
Feeling well the peace of God,
Flowing from His precious blood

In this posture let me live,
And hosannas daily give
In this temper let me die,
And hosannas ever cry!"

-John Berridge (1716-1793)

(Hymn courtesy of Indelible Grace Music.)


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Confessions of a Teenage Hypocrite

This past week brought word of a friend’s fall. The run toward abstinence was too much for her feet to bear alone, but after spurning her God-given authority, her own feet were all she had.

It began in the little things—miniature mutinies only the heart knows. But then her family noticed the difference: a few sharp words, an occasional discontent remark. Sin starts small, but it grows like a pathogen on steroids. Heartbreaking and yet-oh-so-typical for the human race; the fall of this conservative, homeschooled Christian girl is only one of the latest in a long series since the beginning.

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to Eve, a sweet yet naïve, God-worshiping girl. He offered her a piece of the juicy, luscious--forbidden--fruit. With a hiss of his forked tongue, the serpent sowed suspicion: "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4-5 NIV) With a little movement, Eve stepped nearer the tree. In a few short moments, she rationalized the situation. What could a little taste hurt? Certainly the end (becoming like God) would justify the means, and if she ended up regretting it, God would surely overlook such a miniscule mistake. Without another thought, she took a tiny bite.

Eve’s decision is the kind I make flippantly each day, yet her fall remains one of the most pivotal actions of all history. Her dirty little secret led to the Holocaust, mass murder in Darfur, the shootings at Virginia Tech and…my quick temper yesterday.

Choices—even seemingly insignificant thoughts concealed deep in the heart--can have a more profound affect than we realize. James wrote that sin starts small as a dormant desire, then grows. “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:15) My soul, take note: “Insignificant” desires can grow to big sin. Little choices matter.

In spite of this truth, after hearing of my friend’s fall, the serpent’s same old story was repackaged for my consumption: “You will not surely die by merely patting yourself on the back,” the serpent said. “Be proud that you did not choose her path.” Oops. That lie sounds familiar. A white lie here and there, a little curse word when I stub my toe, and just a dab of self-righteousness as icing on the cake; although my stray arrogant thoughts seem small compared to my friend’s fall, they’re of the same significance as biting forbidden fruit. Look at the cost of Eve’s mouthful.

Examining my friend’s situation, the temptation for self-righteousness was replaced by a throbbing sense of shame as the realization hit: I am equally guilty. “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags,” Isaiah said, “….and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6) Although she may have leaped off the cliff, haven’t I equally flirted with the edge? Although she’s embraced sin, haven’t I given it a sly wink more than once?

There is no compensation I could possibly offer for my crimes. If Eve’s fruit was all it took to bring death into the world, I’m certain my numerous “little sins” are enough to purchase my own execution. Yet the whispering resumes: “You will not surely die,” the serpent said. “Surely you can redeem yourself. Try following Mosaic Law, donating to a charity, volunteering in the community or attending church to assuage your guilt.” But I’ve attempted to connive my way into God’s favor enough to know it’s impossible, and these whispers are yet another lie.

C.S. Lewis painted a telling picture of my own attempts to “earn grace.” In Till We Have Faces, Istra, a beautiful, patient and loving girl, is ordered to be executed. As the best the land has to offer, Istra must die as a human sacrifice on behalf of her people. Her sister, Orual, of course, cannot bear the thought of Istra’s death, and implores the King to intervene. In desperation, Orual pleads: “You are right. It is fit that one should die for the people. Give me…instead of Istra.” The King then grabs poor Orual by the wrist and drags her until they both stand before a massive mirror. There, Orual sees the full extent of her own ugliness. The offering called for “the best in the land,” the King says, “And you’d give her that.”

Now, reality sets in. I’m an Orual. My righteousness (which is actually “filthy rags”) is not a worthy offering for a Holy God. Who am I, to dare to even attempt to settle up my actions with Him? When Job demanded God speak, His voice arose from a storm with words that knocked Job to his knees. Job, humbled and awed, replied, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to You? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.” (Job 40:4-5) If Job could barely speak to Him, how do I expect to negotiate my pardon?

As Orual found, the cost for redemption is the death of the Perfect One. My sin stands, along with my friend’s fornication and all other evil acts throughout history as a debt I am powerless to pay. Yet in this sorrow, I find the deepest joy. Jesus’ words ring true, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Mark 2:17) It was the sin of the fruit-eaters, fornicators, liars, thieves and hypocrites that gave need for the Cross, and to us broken sinners the Cross was given.

This is the Gospel, that the One we owed paid our debt. At the foot of the Cross I have no excuses to offer. My sins, big and small, have condemned me. I can only echo the words of John Bradford, who, when witnessing a criminal’s execution uttered, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

With my sin in perspective, my friend and I are equally debtors. Any anger at her sin must eventually melt into prayer on her behalf; a request for her to see her own evil and embrace the God whose blood was tangible grace for us.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

I Dare Not Be Silent

She stood against the ice rink wall, her arms crossed, guarding against the cold. I followed her line of sight to a tiny, delicate girl gliding far too skillfully for her age.
"Is she yours?" I asked.
"Yes, she's five. I bring her here every day," she replied in an accented voice.

Thus our conversation began.

A refugee from the Vietnam war, she explained, "I am a Buddhist, but really I am lost." (I would agree, but it was amazing coming from her.) She continued, "I haven't gone to temple in years. I don't know what I believe."

At first taken aback, I felt my spirit prodded to ask more questions. God help me. I don't know what I'm doing, I prayed.

We talked on.

"Just comparing Buddhism with the Bible..." I attempted to segue to the truth. Finally, I mustered the courage to bring up the "s" word--sin. How can a man see his need for Christ unless he is first humbled by a glimpse of himself? After all, Christ did not come to save the self-righteous, but those who see the sickness in their souls.

And yet mentioning sin still manages to challenge me, as one of the most difficult words to get past my lips. A million questions whirl through the mind, "What will she think? Am I going to sound preachy? What if she gets angry?" I was downright scared.

Speaking of sin requires love. It takes the love of Christ to motivate forgiven sinners (who are still very fearful, weak creatures) to stick out their necks enough to say, "Friend, you're in sin and because I love you I want to warn you where it leads." Yet this love is so important that 1 John tells us we're not really in the faith if we do not have it:
"The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him." (1 John 2:9-10)

After discussing sin, the eyes of the woman at the ice rink widened in amazement. "I have lived in the United States for many years and known many, many Christians and you seventeen year old girl the first to tell me about this!"

I felt sick, knowing I almost had not told her; but I know God must feel sicker, knowing full well the fearfulness in my heart, and the hearts of countless others who pursed their lips instead of speaking truth.

Our behavior is shameful. As soldiers of the Cross we deserve to be court marshaled. We're cowards, cooperating with the enemy by our refusal to fire even a word into the fray. Even Jeremiah, who never heard the name of Jesus Christ in his lifetime, knew enough of God that he was compelled to speak. He cried,

"For each time I speak, I cry aloud;
I proclaim violence and destruction,
Because for me the word of the LORD has resulted
In reproach and derision all day long.
But if I say, 'I will not remember Him
Or speak anymore in His name,'
Then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire Shut up in my bones;
And I am weary of holding it in,
And I cannot endure it."
(Jeremiah 20:8-9. Italics mine.)

Having seen God's love hang on a Cross, how can we be anything less than a Jeremiah? How do we dare keep silent? I'm ashamed of myself. It's my prayer that my tongue will be quicker and my heart more eager to vent the smoke of this fire in my bones. Hopefully next time, I'll be bold.

Until then, I'm praying for the woman at the ice rink.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

To Nibble....

My diet requires no sugar but quite a bit of healthy food. Unfortunately, my taste buds require quite a bit of sugar, and could care less about the healthy stuff. Usually, I can withstand the urge to give in to my demanding taste for sugar because I know the pain I'll be in later. But today was understandably difficult. I decided to make chocolate chip cookies for my family. For those who may not know, cookie dough is a long-time favorite of mine. And while I was placing them on the pan, I began snitching little scoops. As I was about to plop the tenth spoonful of cookie dough in my mouth, my hand mechanically froze in midair directly over my mouth. My eyes, still focusing upward waiting to taste the delightful morsel, dropped and followed my hand back to the bowl. Ooops! Just in the nick of time, my conscience began whispering softly to me, you know you shouldn't be having that... I rolled my eyes and sighed. I had gotten off easy that time, or so I thought. Seconds later, my conscience decided it wasn't done and gave me another jab. I began to feel convicted that my spiritual life resembled the many nibbles I had taken from the cookie dough. Ouch.

I nibble a little of God's Word here and there, enough to satisfy my craving for Truth. But the nibbles are not enough to satisfy the hunger I should have for God. Tasty little bites every other day is not what God expects of the Christian, nor can I grow in godliness, discernment, and wisdom.. I must study and meditate on what God has written in order to grow in these areas. It must become more than just impromptu bites here and there. Psalm 119:16 says,
I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
I had come upon that verse in my devotions, but I pretended to ignore it and move on. But there was my conscience once again poking and prodding me to sit up and take note. I neglect God's Word more than I read it. Another nice jab to my flesh. Double ouch!

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the New Attitude Conference. Oh yes, I had a grand time meeting people, worshiping and studying the Bible with fellow believers, but there was a hidden torment within my soul that was equally great that same weekend. As the first worship session started on Saturday night, I was feeling distant towards God and because of this, my worship to Him felt fake. Was I lifting my hands heavenward because 2,999 other people were? I knew something was terribly wrong, but I couldn't put a finger on my problem. Here I was about to spend an incredible weekend listening to inspiring authors and teachers, and I felt estranged from God and everyone else. I knew God was in the Kentucky International Convention Center, it was I who was wandering around in a galaxy far, far away. God wants us to draw near, but how do you bridge a chasm millions of miles wide?

I found a seat among the thousands of others who seemed to be enjoying an intimate communion with God, and I sullenly pleaded with God to remove this distance from me. Lord, I want to draw closer to you this weekend. I want this distance between us to end, this gap to disappear. I want an intimate relationship with you...because I need you more than ever. But why this separation? How did this happen?

Simply because I was neglecting God's Word. It wasn't rocket science. When I fail to spend time in God's Word, my relationship with God becomes distant and joyless. I confessed my sin of neglect and recommitted myself to a daily diet of God's Word. But to let's be real here, it's easy to make a commitment to commune with God daily at a convention with thousands of other worshipers. But would I feel the same urgency and desire when I was back at home?
"The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." Matthew 26:41
Old habits die hard...
Now that I've been home a few weeks, I'd love to report that every day has been a wonderful day of feasting in God's word. I wish I could say that my relationship with God is in tip-top shape, but truthfully it's far from there. I've begun the tedious process of retraining my "old-self" to quit nibbling and spending more time digging deeper into the richness and vastness of who God is through His Word. Just like with the cookie dough, I must resist the temptation to just sneak a nibble of the sweet stuff and neglect the meat. Quick nibbles provide an instant burst of energy, but do nothing for my relationship with God long term.
"Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." -Psalm 34:8

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Psalm One

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water...

...which yields its fruit in season...

...and whose leaf does not wither.

Whatever he does prospers.

All photos are copyrighted by Kristin Braun


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why Glorify?

When contemplating the subject of God’s glory, I have sometimes wondered why God desires so much to be glorified. Conceit and pride are wrong in human beings; yet it seems odd that a righteous God who honors humility would so loudly proclaim His own glory.

John Piper addresses this question in his book, Desiring God. I think he provides some excellent food for thought, closely related to these previous posts:

“[A reason] people stumble over the teaching that God exalts His own glory and seeks to be praised by His people is that the Bible teaches us not to be like that. For example, the Bible says that "Love seeks not its own" ( 1 Corinthians 13:5). How can God be loving and yet be utterly devoted to "seeking His own" glory and praise and joy? How can God be for us if He is so utterly for Himself?

The answer I propose is this: Because God is unique as an all-glorious, totally self-sufficient Being, He must be for Himself if He is to be for us. The rules of humility that belong to a creature cannot apply in the same way to its Creator. If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, He would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would commit idolatry.

This would be no gain for us. For where can we go when our God has become unrighteous?....
No, we do not turn God's self-exaltation into love by demanding that God cease to be God. Instead we must come to see that God is love precisely because He relentlessly pursues the praises of His name in the hearts of His people.

Consider this question: In view of God's infinite power and wisdom and beauty, what would His love to a human being involve? Or to put it another way: What could God give us to enjoy that would prove Him most loving? There is only one possible answer: Himself! If He withholds Himself from our contemplation and companionship, no matter what else He gives us, He is not loving.

There is the solution! We praise what we enjoy because the delight is incomplete until it is expressed in praise. If we were not allowed to speak of what we value, and celebrate what we love, and praise what we admire, our joy would not be full. So if God loves us enough to make our joy full, He must not only give us Himself; He must also win from us the praise of our hearts-not because He needs to shore up some weakness in Himself or compensate for some deficiency, but because He loves us and seeks the fullness of our joy that can be found only in knowing and praising Him, the most magnificent of all Beings. If He is truly for us He must be for Himself!

God is the one Being in all the universe for whom seeking His own praise is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When He does all things "for the praise of His glory," He preserves for us and offers to us the only thing in all the world which can satisfy our longings. God is for us! And the foundation of this love is that God has been, is now, and always will be, for Himself.”

Read Desiring God online, buy the book, or visit John Piper’s website.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Musings on Life Without God

Mom asked me what I want to do next year. "Do you think you'll get a part time job?" After considering it for a moment, I replied, "Well, I'd have to get a car to get a job....and I'd have to get a job to get a car."

Much of life follows this pattern. I only spend money because I've earned it, and I earn it so I can spend it. In the morning I awake so I can become tired again and return to bed that evening. Call it the circle of life. In the words of E.B. White's spider, Charlotte: "What is life? We live a little, then we die."

On the surface, it all appears futile; in fact, I would like to propose an idea that is both revolutionary and entirely un-original: life does not only appear futile. It is futile. Even when our eternal destinations are taken out of the picture, without a God to serve, ordinary activities and extraordinary activities are worthless. Glorious achievements, such as winning the presidency, are essentially as pointless as everyday actions, such as taking out the trash, if a higher purpose is not satisfied. These so-called “glorious achievements” are not truly great because they only enhance the wellbeing of a human race, which of course, only “lives a little, then dies.” The endless circle of anemic living.

If this is entirely true, then what is it that spurs us to wonder if there is not some higher meaning than this mediocrity? What makes us even momentarily look beyond the daily grind? C.S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity: "God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself."

This truth cannot be compromised by imitations that seek to remove God from the picture. Without the Creator, the created cannot be content. Without the Creator, life is meaningless. It is God whose presence grants beauty and eternal perspective to drudgery. Philippians 4:4 becomes possible ( "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!") when God enters the picture. Even washing dishes, for instance, when done for His glory, becomes a brush with the divine. Life becomes more than time spent. It becomes purposeful. It becomes beautiful.

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Kristin, Hannah & Lindsey

A blog by three young ladies who have a desire to serve the Lord and encourage other young women around them.

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