Breaking News: Ultimate Reality Exists Outside Yourself

 

I am so thankful for a reality I do not create. If my issues, my problems and my feelings were the ultimate measure of the world, what a sad thing existence would be. Frightening, capricious and hopeless.

Yet I have to admit, I live as if that is reality much of the time. It certainly is how my flesh measures reality. But, thanks be to God, I have another anchor. I know that there is a solid, certain reality outside of myself, and it is the one that really matters. There is a God who exists, who has always existed, and who always will exist. And everything that really matters is wrapped up in His existence, not mine. 

Even if my feelings are hurt or my dreams are smashed, what really matters is not at risk. Goodness is safe and secure because God has it safely in His hands. God is a good God, and a powerful God. And God will always see that good prevails. And though I don't like experiencing hurt or loss or failure, I am so thankful for an anchor beyond those things. What is really good resides somewhere beyond my existence, and it can exist regardless of what my experience of the moment might be.

Now, “good” may include me experiencing what is happy or fun or pleasant and, of course, each day I hope it does. But it may not include that. And if in the end I want what is truly good and right to win, then the focus of my thinking must leave the center of myself and center on something else. My experience and my life is no longer the measure of all things. And that is so freeing! Thank you, God, that your will, your purposes and your plans are the true and right boundaries of reality. Thank you that those plans are good and perfect. Thank you that they include me. 

I have a place in that reality: I am invited in as a son. But I don't define it. It's greater than I am.

I need to remember that more. I assume most of us do. According to a recent poll, 91% of evangelical Christians don't believe there is a reality outside of themselves. And the percentage among teenagers was even higher. I have to admit, if that perspective was actually my "final answer" belief, I couldn't survive. My escape hatch to sanity is the knowledge that I am not the measure of all things.  And I don't understand how a Christian could hold that as their "official" view.

But I do recognize how much our culture pulls me into myself, into selfishness, into seeing life through the lens of what is, or isn't, working for me. I can get pretty far down that road sometimes. But the Bible and God’s creation have given me a conviction of a real God, beyond myself, who can be trusted to do what is good, with a measurement of good that goes beyond me. Again, I am called into it, but I have nothing to do with defining it. It was, is and always will be – with or without me. 

And it is that Good, greater than ourselves, that the world needs to know about. The Good News is that Reality is a Person who is not us but who actually cares for us. The Good News opens with the truth that we, and our stuff, are not the measure of reality, but Someone else is. And that Someone is good and has invited us into that good. His name given to us under heaven is Jesus. And because He is reality, I can be saved. 

Thank you, God, that you are beyond me, but that you are reaching out to me. Thank you that what is truly good will prevail in You, and it's reference point is not me. Thank you that this good is my hope, because the Person who holds it always expresses that Goodness toward me.

Exchange Zone Promises

 

Every four years, political hopefuls make a multitude of promises. The unacquainted are easily drawn in, the seasoned are cynical. Rather than focusing on potential promises that the government can dish out every four years, what if we took a look at the life-long promises God has made for us as we follow Christ?

The Exchange Zone is the season of life in Summitview that consists of families with children in middle school and high school. This is a season of excitement, growth and developing potential. For the last year I’ve gotten to be a mentor in the Exchange Zone, and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly, though not having any teenage children of my own.

There is a lot of energy and busy schedules, and in the midst of all this, we can begin to take our eyes off of the goal: being and making disciples of Jesus together. Our performance or achievement in life can become preeminent to trusting in Christ and seeking His will, and as with all times in life, we can become dependent on no one except ourselves. Christ calls both parents and teens to place their trust in him for all that they need, and as such, there is a commonality among families: our need for Jesus.  

Here are some promises from the only One ever found to be faithful enough to keep each one, and how they bring hope and direction for both parents and young adults.

 

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

 

 

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

 

The promise for parents:

The temptation to impatience, giving up or being short tempered because of a teen’s behavior is real and ever-present. God’s faithfulness and grace help us to see the way of escape in realizing his grace towards us, his patience towards our wandering hearts, and his Fatherly gentleness to correct our desire to control our surroundings. He can be trusted and is just as ever-present to help, and instead of coming dejected and defeated, we can come confidently in his name.

The promise for teens:

Instead of being ruled by my immediate reaction, the feeling inside me, or what others are doing and saying, I can see that God is good in giving me exactly the amount that I can handle. It’s never too much. I am not a unique example of being hard-pressed and defeated and victimized, but rather these temptations are a way for me to grow my dependency on the solid foundation, and look not to myself, but Jesus Christ. I have confidence to draw near to Christ, regardless of my experience in life or age because it is based on Christ’s sacrifice, not my ability or inability.

 

“For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:32-34)

 

The promise for parents:

Approaching empty-nester-hood and the prospect of retirement, as well as moving up the career ladder for the last 20 years, we can be duped into seeking after the world’s things: bigger, faster, better. Jesus is calling our hearts homeward, to him, his Kingdom, his righteousness and likeness. He knows that we need clothes, food and housing for years to come. And he hasn’t let us down thus far, but has proven his faithfulness countless times over. What we need in the future is not to be worried about. An active seeking of His kingdom growth and righteous likeness in our lives is all that counts for eternity.

The promise for teens:

That cool hoodie or those amazing new shoes are not what define your worth or beauty. Our young culture says that you are what you look like – your image, your impression you make on others, and the ability to stick out. Being all the rage is a never-ending cycle of comparison that no one has ever won. Rather than constantly comparing to others, we can look to Jesus and realize that cotton fibers and the material world don’t make a person. The soul of a person is lost or gained only through Jesus, and he is worth living for a million times over the cool crowd.

These promises are given by the Father of us all, whether parent or teen, and are needed daily in our walks with Jesus. 

All the World's a Stage: Embracing God's Grand Story and the Role We Play

 

It’s my turn to write a blog today. Hasn’t gone well. At 10:45 a.m., my Google calendar alarm went off, notifying me that I had 15 minutes to submit at least 500 words to the Summitview blog. At 10:45 a.m., I had exactly zero words written.

At 1:45 p.m., I had zero words written. The white, blank slate of Microsoft Word was putting minimalist graphic designers to shame.

This was not writer’s block. This was narrative deficit disorder: my heart and soul were sluggish, uninspired and thoroughly conflicted with contradictions in my own life’s story. I was distracted and dissatisfied with my performance in life, with how I was playing the character “me.” I wasn’t embracing the conflict as an opportunity to grow, but to pout.

Here’s the rub: all good and timeless stories require conflict and contradictions. It’s just that in the middle of the scene where you’re reduced to tears on the bathroom floor, you don’t feel like your story is good. You don’t feel sufficient to play the role you’ve been given. You don’t like your character, because you keep tripping over the same inconsistencies and contradictions again, and again, and again.

Maybe you feel, like George Costanza, that your life is the complete opposite of everything you ever wanted it to be. Or, perhaps, you’re like Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne, and you've had it with your lousy circumstances.

We Christians like to believe that we’re all a part of God’s big, redemptive story. I believe that’s true. I believe that there’s a lot of identity-forming power in believing that the God of the universe cares about the details of your life and my life. I just think we do a poor job of remembering that the ending of this story has already been revealed.

The trailer leaked on YouTube: it’s a happy ending. He gets the girl.

I think we choose not to remember the ending because it allows us to indulge in our selfishness and complaints. It’s cathartic. But it’s fleeting, empty.

So, I sat at my desk today, failing to remember the ending. Unable to come up with a decent idea for a blog. Unhappy with the development of my own character arch. Unhappy with my tuna on toast. Unhappy with my dead parrot.

I believe this is where the Director wants us. He wants us to come to the end of ourselves, to realize the vanity of our self-sufficiency.

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

 

And like any good and trustworthy director, God gives us the proper motivation to live, to act out our scenes. “For the love of Christ controls us,” Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:14. I like what Michael Dodson says: “We don’t fight for acceptance; we fight from our acceptance [as new creations in Christ].”

Do you not like where you are? Do you not like your role? Your scene? Your stage? It’s because the focus is on you. Earlier today, I was focused on me – not my Father, not his story, not his unending love for me.

We can be the most thankless beings. Paul Tripp once noted that sin is anti-social. And when we become anti-social, we become like Jonah, a first-class pout pot. Sin is reading your lines and tearing into the Writer for not giving you better jokes, instead of thanking him for even giving you a role in the grandest story ever told.

I’d like to close with a quote from N.D. Wilson’s brilliant Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. He paints the mood well. It’s beautiful, convicting and humbling, and it cuts to the heart of our motivation and the goodness of our story’s Author:

But gratitude is all-important. Everything is a gift. Every smell, every second, every ice cream dollar. Gratitude for the whole story, from beginning to end, gratitude for the valleys and the shadows that lead us to the novel’s final page.

 

Take a step and thank God, for He holds you in His hand. Never ask to be put down. Never struggle for separation or for worth apart from His gifts. Breathe, taste His world, His words, and marvel that you are here to feel the blowing swirl of life. To be blown by it.

 

Enjoy your ice cream.

Triumph and Hope in Challenging Places

A few weeks back, I settled in for my evening reading. My main passage for the night was Romans 8 and, as I read its words, I wept because I didn’t know what to do with them:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

 

I never got to anything else that night. I just sat and stewed, praying, weeping, trying to figure out how hope can be placed in a passage laden with such turmoil.

I’ve struggled with the concept of hope in recent years. Personally, I’ve held out hope for a lot of things yet unseen. The earth is definitely groaning. Our bodies, too. It’s hard to have patience when the experiences we walk through are difficult. Hope is a tricky word in our language because it can connote so many different types of waiting. 

But the hard passages and books, like Romans 8 and James and 1 John, are necessary – they require us to examine ourselves and be assured of our salvation before God (1 John 3:19). They help us remember to have hope in eternal things purchased for us by Christ crucified and risen, and not in the things of this world (which always decay, according to my knowledge of basic physics).

About a month ago, I started through the book of James with Beth Moore’s study. It’s a tough book on my heart (having been raised by believing parents and having wrestled periodically with the whole faith-versus-works thing in James 2), but buried in this challenging text is the very reason we study it:

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder! (James 2:19)

 

This very thing should rattle us. It should create in us a desire to examine ourselves honestly:

Realizing that we share a certain amount of our belief system with demons from hell is humbling and frightening. Make no mistake. They are monotheists. They have seen the glory of the Lord God Himself. They know there is no one like Jehovah. They also know that Jesus is His Son. (Beth Moore, “Mercy Triumphs,” p. 102)

 

We need to do more than just claim God is who He is says He is. The demons claim that. We need to walk in light of those truths. We need the Spirit to intercede for us, searching our hearts (Romans 8:26-27) and to recognize the Word of God as life-giving, even when we grapple to fit its pieces together.

At the end of a summer like this last one, where heat, drought and fire destroy, cancers threaten loved ones, and lives are lost in the middle of the night at the hands of fallen men, where do we place our hope? Do we really find rest in the beautiful truth that Jesus Christ was made “to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21)? Do we really believe that each one of us was once under His wrath (Psalm 90:9)?

I have brawled intensely with God this summer, as I’m certain have many of you. In the midst of my lack of understanding, however, He has graciously reminded me of His triumphant mercy over my own days. I may not know all the reasons why, but returning my sight to the Gospel – the truths of fallen man and merciful God – grants me all the perspective I need to find hope for things unseen.

A Quick Word on the New Bulletin

Last Sunday, we debuted a new bulletin design. So far, the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.

But we have received multiple inquiries regarding the status of two of our pastors. On the previous bulletin, Summitview’s pastors – Mitch Majeski, Aaron Ritter, John Meyer, Pat Sokoll and Chris Sheets – were showcased on the back cover. In the new bulletin iteration, only Mitch, Aaron and John are listed as our pastors. Naturally, some members of our congregation wondered if Pat and Chris were no longer pastors.

Great observation, great question. And the answer is, yes: both Pat and Chris are still pastor-elders at Summitview. Pat did not kidnap Chris to help him start a bicycle shop in rural Chile.

It’s been a season of change for the Loveland church, so Pat and Chris have dedicated most of their energies toward shepherding our sister flock. And because that trend will continue through the foreseeable future, we felt it was more accurate to list only Mitch, Aaron and John in our Sunday bulletin.

God is doing exciting things in Loveland, and Pat will give us an update on what’s been taking place there at our Sunday morning service on September 30.

As a closing aside and general point of encouragement, be sure to keep Summitview’s pastors in your prayers. These five men work hard to seek the Lord’s direction for our local body, and it means the world to them when their fellow brothers and sisters lift them up to the throne room of grace.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading, and keep your stick on the ice.

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