SAFE

Motivation. 

Think about that word. What moves you? 

The opinions of others? I’ll admit that’s been my primary source of motivation for the majority of my life.

In the past, my fear of what others think has been enough to send me into a tail-spin of introspection and anxiety for days.

 Image by:  Viktor Mogilat

Image by: Viktor Mogilat

But God is so gracious and He’s been at work; a slow steady work.

The moment I was willing to surrender to this work, whatever it looked like, He started a full-scale upheaval of the falsehood I had built my identity on. There was only one truth that could set me free. It’s a truth that I’d heard a million times but it didn’t make a difference in me until I came to the end of myself. God knows me through and through. He knows my every thought, sinful and glorifying. He knows my every motive, selfish and selfless. He knows it all and He loves me still. He loves me so much He sacrificed everything to be in relationship with me, the very relationship He created me for, the relationship that frees me from the bondage of sin and shame. And what He says about me is more powerful than the opinion of anyone else, even my own opinion of myself.

God’s love isn’t reckless. He knows what kind of people He came to save, He knew exactly what that would mean and He did it anyway. We’re the ones who can’t conceive of it. So yes, it appears reckless from our incredibly limited perspective. But it’s just who He is. (I love that song as much as the next person but I had to say it.)

There is nothing more humbling than knowing that God saw me at my lowest, least-desirable point and sent His Son to die for me. This not only speaks profoundly to who God is but speaks volumes about who I am.

The Creator of heaven and earth, powerful beyond comprehension, loves me beyond reason. 

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
— Colossians 3:3-4 ESV
And you are complete in Him...
— Colossians 2:10 NKJV

When ruled by insecurity, we sentence ourselves to a fear-driven search for wholeness. 

Picture yourself standing out in the cold, alone. The door right in front of you leads to warmth and safety but it also means admitting your inability to find security apart from Jesus. It means surrender. And if we’re honest with ourselves we know deep down it’s the only thing standing between us and abundant life. All too often we try and find some sense of who we are apart from the One who made us, all the while still His beloved, welcome at any moment to come in from the cold and find the shelter we long for. 

You see, “He must increase and I must decrease” is not a loss of identity, but a reconciliation of it. (John 3:30)

John was not fading into the background of history, but fully embraced his role in the grand narrative of God’s redemption of mankind. 

We are the imago Dei, made in God’s very image and likeness. And Jesus is the purest expression of God’s intention for humanity. Therefore, who we are must be firmly rooted in Him. Our identity “In Christ” is the safest place for us to grow into the people we were always meant to become.

Don’t sleep on this truth. It’s everything. 

Your identity is safe with the One who made you. 

How could the men and women of Hebrews 11 sacrifice everything for the sake of a promise they would never see fulfilled while on this earth? How could Jim Elliot, John Chau and countless others feel so compelled to share Jesus that it would ultimately cost them their physical lives? The things we often feel entitled to or believe we will find fulfillment in were the things they counted as loss. Why? 

They knew that who they were was safe with the One who made them.

And if who we are is safe then everything else seems to matter so little. All the things that we look to for happiness and security seem to carry less weight. If our lives are hidden with Christ, if who we are is found in Him, we’ll find our grip loosening on the things we once held onto so tightly. We shouldn’t be surprised if we end up looking a little reckless ourselves.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.
— Philippians 3:8-12

Re-Discovering the Awe

My 7-year-old daughter has this thing for toy unwrap videos. In case you’re wondering, toy unwrap videos are where people unpackage toys on YouTube while providing commentary throughout the process. (Confession: Sometimes, it is strangely satisfying to watch.) A few months back my wife and I noticed a shift in her behavior. Multiple times a day she would ask for various toys. More than usual it was, “Daddy will you get me this? Can I have one of those? Hey, I want that!” I know kids love toys, but this was uncharacteristic of her. After some conversation and investigation, we noticed her fascination with these videos and thus, traced her change in behavior back to these clips.

Then, in an unexpected way, God began to use this scenario to deal with me, graciously chastising me for the many things that compete for the affections of my own heart.

 Photo by:  J. Diego

Photo by: J. Diego

I became more aware of how this horizontal world can consume us. It could be a new job, a promotion, a fresh, new pair of kicks, or, perhaps it’s an unhealthy relationship, money, porn, revenge, etc. When our love is not aligned vertically, we chase after the horizontal. We aim to fill our affections with the objects of our obsession.

We seem so easily compelled to settle for a very human “second best,” when what God offers us is so much more. The temptation being to exchange the Creator’s glory for something created.

It’s in our nature to conform to the likeness of what we behold. In time, we come to care for the thing(s) we give our time, energy and attention to. Like a combustion engine, we have the capacity to fuel our tastes and motivations for life.

For Israel, God miraculously delivered them from Egypt. After which, He instructed them to craft a temple worthy of His glory (Exodus 24-31). Moments and chapters later (Exodus 32), God’s chosen people are crafting a golden idol, a god of their own making, to worship while Moses talks to God on the mountain.

Like this moment, our entire human dilemma comes down to one thing: worship.

As John Piper once said, “Missions exist because worship does not.” As creatures with sin in our DNA, we are not inclined to pursue God, only to seek self-satisfaction until we eventually destroy ourselves. Sin leads to death (Romans 6:23). This is the disease of the human heart.

But our hearts are made to worship, not things, but God. I challenge you to study the lives of those around you. Look closely and you will find everyone serving and loving something. Our worship is good, the things we worship, not so much. But only the one true God is worthy of being worshiped. Only God can absorb our praise. And in this, He uses it to turn our affections towards Him. It is His goodness that draws us to repentance (Romans 2:4). This captivation found in our creator has a name. We call it awe­­ - a complete and total captivation, an amazed wonder at the brilliance of who God is.

Worship begins with discovering the awe.

For the Christian, our daily pursuit is to re-discover the awe, where once again we revel in the majesty of our beautiful savior.

Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
— Romans 11:34-36

God has made us so that our affections will flow to and through Him. He wants to epitomize our worship. Since He made us to worship, our primary end is to uplift Him in our lives.

When God is not the ultimate aim of our affection, a problem arises. When He fails to imbue the fullness of our desires, our joy is short-lived. And so, as a human race, we find ourselves unhappy, chasing things, when all along it was God calling at our desires bidding us to come and find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).  

But think about it…only an eternal being (God) can handle the human heart’s deep yearning for joy and satisfaction. It’s only when our desires are set upon Him that we are truly satisfied. In Him, our contentment is certain, since only God can manage what He made - our hearts.

Do you see? Outside of God’s grace, when we steward the human heart, we destroy it. God completes it.

Application to the Believer & the Artist

Worship is equally central to the creative life. To be a creator is to share an element of the beauty we’ve beheld - to tell its story. When that most awe-inspiring thing or person is God, the creative works to translate these aspects of His revealed greatness through their gifts for His infinite glory.

This response (to God’s revealed glory) is what we call worship.

In other words, worship is our adoring response to the revealed glory of God.

When we behold the Creator, our hearts long to share the transcendence we experience. We long to capture these elements of the sublime and put them in front of the viewer as if to say, “Come look what I’ve found. Come see the glory and majesty of what I’ve discovered.”

Look around and you will quickly discover how God has crafted the world to reflect His greatness (Romans 1).

Is it any wonder that when we gaze upon God’s beauty, we long to do the same - reflect His greatness?

The same goes for what we craft with our hands. We want it to reflect the beauty we’ve beheld in what we make.

Look circumspect and take note, whether you’re a custodian or a craftsman, an artist or a homemaker, a coach or a designer, a thinker, a teacher, a dad or an entrepreneur, your first priority is to worship our great and glorious King.

 

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Learning to Live Open Handed

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
— Psalm 86:11 
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in Your ways.
— Psalm 119:37

Sticky notes with these two verses and one that says: “Give me singular focus,” sat on my desk for months. I needed the constant reminder.

 Photo by Sabine van Straaten

Photo by Sabine van Straaten

God has been slowly untethering my soul from things that I’ve held too tightly. By my actions, I would protest (at times I still do), “Can’t I have both?” And I knew the answer was no. But “no” came with a promise of a life that I could not, in my short-sightedness, conceive of. At the turn of the year, I made a resolution that I intended to keep. 

The resolution was to be more yielded to the Spirit of God than I have ever been. 

This was not something to try. There was only yielding, dying and somehow living. It required constantly acknowledging my propensity to want to go my own way. And I’ve realized this year that this process, this steady constant returning, this well-worn path of repentance, is a gift. Every time I open my hands to Him in surrender He takes the thing that threatens my worship and replaces it with affection for Him. 

I have to remind myself that there is no merit to me finally acknowledging how lost, wounded, and broken I am, when God is the one who has revealed my need. What merit is it to me to lay every hope and dream out on the table and to say, “God, do with this what you will” knowing that He alone can make my life worth living? 

God has been showing me areas of self-deception and ways I’ve been short-changing my life from lasting character formation. One of those areas has been social media. 

A couple of weeks ago, I came home from a meeting grieved over my own sin and the struggle I suspect many of us are facing. I wrote the following thoughts.

I’m sharing this because maybe, just maybe, it will speak to a work that He’s already begun in you too. 

***

Oh Jesus, have we forgotten? Or did we ever really know that our lives are not our own? We know all the right words and we feel this deep ache. We ask ourselves why and then we fill ourselves up with doing. Doing makes us feel better. Slowing down just makes us realize we’re deeply dissatisfied and the doing will never really fix it. So, we fill the still moments up with other people’s doing. At the heart of it, we know there’s a daily dying that we can’t quite bring ourselves to embrace. What will our lives mean if we can’t show and tell people what we should mean to them?

What if? It’s the question that haunts all those being drawn deeper.

What if I stopped caring? What if they misunderstand?

What if they don’t care?

What if I slip through the cracks and I’m never really seen, never really known?

At times we begin to see shafts of light breaking through the clouds because God is pursuing us. But then we try to capture this unfinished business in moments that are fleeting. “I have to share this with the world, this is what everyone needs”. We tell ourselves that it’s for their good, but really it’s so that we can prove we have something to say. Something real. Something tangible. Something that, if we truly embraced it, would change our lives forever. But we don’t think about it too hard because laying everything out on the table feels a little too risky. We let Jesus close enough to make us appealing but not effective. I think Jesus wants to build His church by building our character. But the things that could really make all the difference in us we peddle for praise. So, rather than becoming who we know deep down God is calling us to become, we settle for the version of ourselves that will fool everyone, even us.

***

Friends, He wants so much more for us than we want for ourselves. 

Christ is all, 

Casey

 

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