January 27, 2012

Do you get the Drift?

Last post I talked about a fellow’s story of his own 'de-conversion’, in which he describes his experience of ‘being saved’ and then of beginning to doubt the existence of a personal God until every vestige of faith seemed to have crumbled.  He described it as a ‘graceful degradation’. One by one the components underlying his faith in God broke down under closer scrutiny.  Such things as his own testimony, answered prayer, the beauty and complexity of creation, scientific evidence, the Bible, logical arguments, and morality all fell short of being convincing reasons for him to believe.

Depending on one’s theological background, some would say he ‘lost his salvation’.  Others, that he was never ‘saved’ in the first place.  And others still that his turning his back on God, doesn’t mean God has turned His back on Him…  Time will tell.  We probably don’t see the whole picture and God is His judge (I Cor.4:4,5)

Though I do not know this young man’s destiny, I do know that we are cautioned often in Scripture to be watchful.  Sin is by nature deceitful.  Our human natures are bent to embrace it.  And we do have an enemy who is far more clever than we are!

Some verses that have come to my attention are:

“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it….how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” (Heb.2:1,3)

“Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’ for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.” (I Tim.6:20)

“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood…therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Eph.6:11-13)

“Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb.3:12,13)

“…God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”
(2 Tim.2:25,26)

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (I Tim.4:16)

I read somewhere lately that if you think you are above deception, (it could never happen to you) you are already deceived! That hit the mark! It’s the principle of pride coming before a fall, I suppose (Prov.16:18).  Paul had a similar warning for the Corinthians: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (I Cor. 10:12).  In the context, he was explaining to the Corinthians that the events recorded in the Old Testament about the Israelites and their relationship to God are recorded for a reason, namely for our own instruction. I can read stories of unbelief and shake my head in arrogant incredulity or… I can take heed and learn something from their example! 

So what can I learn from this fellow’s story?  Let me just lay out a few observations I’ve made…

  • “Getting saved” must  entail some comprehension of what we are being saved from—not just a warm, fuzzy belief that God is there and I’m now initiated to the club. I see no acknowledgement of sin in this fellow’s story, and in fact a disconcerting sense of being a good person at heart.  Jesus came “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."(Lk.5:32)
  • The reality of the Holy Spirit’s presence in one’s life must consist of more than a moment-in-time experience.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is what sets the true believer apart from the rest of the world. (“Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him”. Romans 8:9) So it is crucial that we verify His presence by more than subjective experience.  Is there a newfound freedom, a hunger for the Word, a growing Christlikeness, a love for others….These things are effects of the life of the Spirit in our lives.  [For an excellent set of articles entitled: “The effects of the Spirit” don’t miss T.M. Moore’s series available at  www.colsoncenter.org or downloadable here: http://www.colsoncenter.org/images/content/wilberforce/ViewPoint_Studies/VP-Effects-of-the-Spirit.pdf ]
  • The Word of God is an essential aid to growth, stability and protection from deception.   It is our guide to life and godliness.  Accept no substitutes! (II Tim.3:16)  This young man appears to have neglected study of the Word in favor of reliance on impressions and visions.
  • Hearing from God is first and foremost a matter of listening as the Spirit brings the written Word to life in our hearts.  Overdependence on mental impressions apart from verification in the Word will leave us open to deception.  The mind is a powerful entity and we are capable of deceiving ourselves. 
  • Beware the craving to understand everything.  The human mind must be subject to the truths that God has revealed even when they cannot be explained.  As believers, we are people of revelation--not everything we believe can be logically ‘proven’ beyond a doubt.  Paul describes our quandary excellently in I Corinthians 1. “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”(21) Intellectual arrogance is a slippery slope to grand delusion!  By it we can profess to be single-minded searchers after truth and be in fact pursuing deception!

And that’s some of what I’ve gleaned from this fellow’s story.  We are called to greater things—to know the source of all Truth.  Interestingly, the deception already at work in the world that will culminate in Antichrist’s appearance will target those who have ‘refused to love the truth and so be saved.’(II Thess.2:7-11)  A great deception is coming and already at work but I love the way Paul braces us for it-- reminding us that we are loved, chosen, and saved by the Spirit’s work and our belief in the truth…and after all is known and believed, it is God who is at work to strengthen and establish us in all we say and do.  Wow!  And that’s the drift of what I really wanted to say!

Thanks for hearing me out.

--LS

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits  to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (II Thess.2: 13-17)

January 20, 2012

High Wind Warning in Effect!

I spent an evening this week listening to a young man’s testimony, but not of the usual sort. This one was a detailed recounting of his own DE-conversion experience. He traced in detail his own descent into unbelief.

I’ve never heard anything like it. What went wrong? What were the warning signs he missed? How could this happen? I listened with rapt attention, took notes, and have been mulling his words over ever since, intent on gleaning wisdom from this tragic, but unfinished, story.

This young 20-something fellow grew up in church, a Pentecostal church. He and his family were regulars there and he was an eager beaver for boys club and all things church. By his own profession he ‘accepted’ Jesus into his heart at one such meeting. And as a young teen he experienced the requisite ‘baptism of the Holy Spirit’ with the evidence of tongues (and falling to the floor). He was a well-churched lad. He towed the line. His relationship with Jesus seemed intact. He learned to hear His voice. He had visions. He had never actually read the Bible through himself, but He experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in church, and he knew what it felt like when God was speaking to him.


He grew into a young man quite confident in his faith, or at least in his own righteousness. He was an intensely religious fellow, even thought maybe he should be a missionary, but his natural aptitudes were more along the lines of ‘techie’ stuff—maybe he could design a computer game that would win the world to Christ?! What did God want him to do with his life anyway?

He became obsessed with prayer as a means of figuring out God’s will and making his life work. Well, at first he prayed for others, but the answers seemed so hit and miss. He got burned one too many times when he really believed something was going to happen--but it didn’t. His focus turned toward himself and his own experience of God in prayer. Visual images became the most frequent way God communicated with him. He learned to trust theses images because he knew what God’s presence felt like based on his experience at church. He learned to rely on God to show him what to say, what to do. And it worked. Granted, he didn’t have many friends, and definitely no girlfriends, but he was getting good grades…
His strategy worked flawlessly, he said, until his junior year. He began to fail in a class. Re-doubling his energies and his devotion to ‘prayer’, i.e. listening for the voice and the images, made no difference. Nothing was working. Suddenly he felt lost; God’s will seemed hidden. The only time he could still hear God guiding him was in his Internet dialogs with atheists. Speaking with atheists became his obsession…. He was confident this was God’s mission for his life.


You get the drift of where this story is heading. This lost young man used the technical term “graceful degradation” to describe how one by one his reasons to believe disintegrated. Graceful degradation refers to the property that enables a system to continue operating properly despite the failure of some of its components. Even as his belief in prayer failed, other components of his belief system were being called into question.

Ethics class in college was unnerving. So, if everybody is good and wants to do what’s right, then it’s just about collectively deciding what’s best… We don’t need God for that.  Maybe morality is in fact man made.  We just need to figure out the rules for ourselves. Maybe there really is morality apart from God…
Somewhere along the line this young man found a book that was ‘clearly’ God’s way of revealing to him how science and the Bible fit together. There was no need to doubt Darwin. Other ‘problems’ too could be explained away. No one need be an atheist any longer if he could just show them that the Bible was really not at odds with evolutionary science.


And then he met ‘the professor’. It was an unlikely place to meet-- over an Amazon review the young man had written for a new edition of the Bible. Hostile remarks about the Bible’s obvious ‘errors’ precipitated the meeting, and shook the young man’s beliefs like never before. And soon he and the professor were in regular dialog, for the young man said, “It was clear to me that God was bringing me knowledge through this man.” The sage old professor sized up his prey early on, for he too had once had faith, back in his happier golden twenties… He warned the young man to stop asking questions, to stop pursuing this ‘knowledge’ that would surely destroy his faith. But when the young man persisted the professor persuaded him that since there was no way he was old enough to know all the things he didn’t know, and since he most assuredly couldn’t understand God at his age, he should sit back, relax and listen to what the professor had to say, and stop trying to argue! And so he did.

The professor broke the news to him that over all the years of history, academia had yet to find any reason to believe that ‘god’ was anything more than a concept… He cited books, and psychological explanations, and obscure ‘proven’ knowledge. He appealed to the young man’s arrogance and his appetite for ‘truth’. And the young man was confident God had led him to this ‘former Christian’ to strengthen his own journey…


Meanwhile the young man had begun to read the Bible, but from a vantage point of skepticism. What he could not understand fueled his doubts, fed his unbelief and destroyed his confidence in the Bible as a trustworthy guide to truth…


The process of ‘graceful degradation’ had now reached critical mass. All the things that had once confirmed his belief in God were disintegrating. Prayer, the existence of morality, the Bible, the testimony of others, scientific credibility. This new way of seeing ‘just made too much sense’. The logic of it was irresistible. Resistance seemed futile. He knew he was at a crisis point and decided to call his parents.

“What would you do, Dad, if someone showed you that what you believed was wrong?”
His dad brushed it off with a hapless response: “I wouldn’t listen to him.”
“But Dad, what if it was true?”
Angered (and likely exasperated at his own inability to reason with his son) the Dad lashed out: “Jesus didn’t come to give us the TRUTH… He came to…”
His Dad uttered the word ‘truth’ with a contempt that stunned the faltering son, for whom ‘truth’ had become the quest of his life. As he put it: “Truth was more important to me than God” (as though the two were at odds!).

The young thinker had already concluded from his experience
--that connecting with God had required him to disconnect with the natural world around him,
--that connecting with God had led him to poor mental health,
--that connecting with God was a kind of unreality…. and so following this final clincher of conversation with his parents, he turned his back on his faith in God holding only to what he felt was his ‘unwavering commitment to find the truth’.


His story turns dark at this point. He describes his new world as ominous and dark. He becomes delusional, borderline schizophrenic for a short time, as he rearranges the perceptions his soul has held dear and makes room for deception… Pantheism becomes a prospect and he begins to ‘see how evil God was…’ By this time in his story I have listened for hours. Incredulous. Sad. Troubled. I do not wish to hear any more details. It is all beginning to sound like rubbish—fool’s gold. He has embraced a whirlwind of swirling confusion while feeling confident that he has set his sails to find ‘truth’.


He continues to go to church because that is his only social network. He doesn’t talk about his unbelief there, not much anyway. Noone would understand. No one cares to think with him about truth. He observes that noone seems to notice the change he has undergone--so much for people who claim to communicate with an omniscient God. They don’t really seem to know much… The professor has suggested he view them as ‘deluded automatons’, afraid of science, ‘more often fueled by emotion than a serious search for truth’. This appeals to the young man’s arrogance. He really must be on a different rational level than all these church folk and now he concurs with the professor: “Religion doesn’t serve people like us.”


--------------

It’s bedtime at my house by the time I hear this young man out. He’s a perfect stranger to me, but quite an articulate one. I’ve stumbled upon his story on the Internet, at a site apparently dedicated to promoting skepticism.* But the telling, and the listening have reinforced in my mind my commitment to a faith that is grounded in reality, backed by the inerrant Word of God, and not subject to change with every wind of doctrine or wave of emotion.  I am eternally grateful for such a hope.

When this young man has exhausted his intellect with the investigation of every man-made alternative to God, the question will remain:
What will you do with Jesus Christ?



“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified…to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (I Cor.1:20-25)

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I must leave off without further commentary tonight; this is long enough! Perhaps next time? In the meantime I commend to you Ephesians 4 as it lays out God’s design for our maturing and protection from the wild winds and waves of deception…

“...And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ…”  (Eph.4:11-15)


--LS


I welcome your feedback.  What is your perception of this man’s story? 


* a series of YouTube videos features this young man’s testimony, “Why I am No Longer a Christian” at: http://www.youtube.com/user/Evid3nc3


Update: 2/16/12 A well-stated blog analyzing this man's testimony in light of the Bible is found at: http://caffeinatedtheology.com/atheist-chris-redford-i-am-smarter-than-god-and-i-have-higher-moral-standards/

January 13, 2012

Prove all Things

 

I longed for the Reality of His Presence…. to actually SEE the working of God and to KNOW and EXPERIENCE Him more…”* So begins the testimony of a fellow that considered himself well-grounded in the Word, but as he pursued the wrong means and ends, his life and that of his family were nearly ship-wrecked. Why? How does that happen when there is such an apparently legitimate passion to ‘know’ God?

OK, I’ll say right up front here that I have far more on my mind than will fit in a single blog but am having a tough time sorting and ordering its presentation. In short, I see two related phenomena happening in current Christian practice. This pursuing of the experiential ties them both together. One is a strong desire to experience God’s presence, to SEE signs and wonders or anything that will give evidence that God is alive and well and active in my sphere of the world. The other related idea, is the view that prayer is much more of a two-way walkie-talkie than our parents’ generation ever suspected. Hearing from God outside His already written Word has become rather commonplace, in fact an anticipated right of every child of God. If you’re not ‘hearing God’s voice’ something must be wrong. Or maybe you just need some practice…

It sounds good. But something is not right. As the Mother Goose rhyme says, “I smell a rat close by”!**

How could that be? Surely we can give credence to both these pursuits. That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection…” was after all Paul’s own single-minded reason for pressing on (Phil.3:10). Isn’t that the same as knowing ‘the reality of His presence”? And His sheep hear His voice’ is surely evidence enough that God speaks quite intelligibly to His own. Isn’t it?

Apparently church historians are onto labeling this trend. They’re describing the times we live in as ‘third-wave Christianity’ [The first wave was Pentecostalism, the second the Catholic Charismatic Revival—and we must be talking strictly about the modern era or we’re missing centuries of ‘waves’!] Some are calling this trend the ‘new paradigm’ in evangelical Protestantism, tracing it back to the explosion of interest in spiritual experience characterized by the ‘Jesus People’ in the 60’s.*** I haven’t been a serious student of Church History (not yet anyway) but I’m convinced that even a little knowledge would give a stabilizing wisdom and perspective to our trendy times. Solomon said there was nothing ‘new’ under the sun. I’ve been reading Bruce Shelley’s Church History in little ‘helpings’ and thinking, wow…. Extra-biblical revelation is nothing new. Certain erroneous doctrines embraced a thousand years ago (which are with us to this day) were confirmed by dreams and signs. What if more emphasis had been placed on establishing truth from the written Word and less credence given to the experiential? Might we have been spared damnable heresies? Might we still? But I digress…

The fellow I was citing as I began this post continued: As I daily studied the words that I received [from prophetic teachers]… this desire grew. I grew dissatisfied and frustrated with the church I was attending. “They just don’t GET IT!” I told myself. So I determined in my heart that I would find out where I could learn about this “New Thing” that God was doing and I and my family would be there when God showed up!” *

He was in for some major disappointments. He changed churches, got to the source of where God was apparently moving, and in his own words: “that’s when my life started to unravel.” It’s a story that’s been lived out innumerable times. Fortunately for him, he extricated himself and committed with his wife to find their source in the Word and prayer alone, in the company of solid Bible-believing friends with ‘a proven track record with God’, ‘solid, firm grounded and steady in the Word’, not merely sounding ‘spiritual’. He’s on the road to recovery.

As I look at movements and stories of people around me, as I read, as I ‘work out my salvation’ with the God who is at work in me, I wonder, what are the safeguards, what are some guiding features of the way of truth? How will I keep from sliding down the slippery slope of experiential reality where it parts ways with revealed truth? I love to research and investigate in quest of solid truth, to cross-examine and evaluate. But it also occurs to me even as I’ve begun to read and listen to half-truths and enticing ‘new truths’ that these can be a tremendous distraction from the pure and unadulterated pursuit of Jesus to which I’m called. Paul pled with the Corinthian church to recognize that the teachers they were entertaining were false. He said: “I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.  But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. “ II Cor.11:2,3

From the look of things there’s no end of craziness and false teaching in our times. It’s alluring; if not to believe it, at least to expose it. But can I afford the distraction? What might become of my morning quiet times? Will I be reading His Word, or a book that promises me the keys to enjoying His Presence? Must my passion for the truth take me through every counterfeit before I can contest that I’m sure of my foundation? And is the old fashioned way of reading the Word and praying good enough or must I find a new and better way? And most critically, am I beyond delusion and deceit myself, or might I walk into a hidden snare in the process of unraveling truth and error?

I find it especially disturbing that seemingly ‘spiritual’ teaching can actually lead us away from undiluted devotion to Christ. Paul warned the Corinthians that the men who boasted of their ‘mission’ to the Corinthians were actually false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ”.  And here’s the part that makes me sit up and take notice. It’s not as though the people we may read or listen to or be led astray by are going to appear as obvious frauds. Paul was quick to point out: “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” II Cor.11:12-15. Oh my, these teachers will be perceived as ‘servants of righteousness’. Now that’s something to think about!

But, if I’m not going to read every book, watch every video clip, and follow every related blog to find out who’s who and who’s not what they seem… what are some guiding questions I can use to steer myself and the arms and legs of the Body around me into ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.’

I know I’ve asked way too many questions already, but the following are ones I’ve drawn up (in no particular order) to evaluate teaching that comes my way. I’d love it if you’d add to this list in the comment box! For starters…

************

--Is the focus on things seen or unseen? On believing in a hope yet unseen or in experiencing what we hope for now. (Rom.8:24,25)

--What is the effect of the teaching? Does it point me to Jesus or attract me to a teacher? Does it increase my hunger for the Word of God or the words of a man? (I Cor.1:12,13)

--Is the Cross of Christ and the pure and simple Gospel message of sin, repentance and salvation a primary or peripheral teaching? Are visible, physical manifestations given more attention than the Gospel’s power to transform souls?(I Cor. 1:17,18)

--Godliness with contentment is great gain. Is there a measure of contentment in this teaching? Can I rest in it or am I left forever craving something more? (I Tim.6:6)

--Is the ministry markedly Christ-like—not just with demonstrations of power but with humility, servant hearts, self-effacement, and righteous living. Is it marked by loving self-sacrifice or self-promotion? (Phil.2)

--Are the benefits that are made much of primarily to be experienced in this lifetime, in these bodies, or does the teaching emphasize seeking those things that are above? (Col.3:1)

--Whose Kingdom is being built by this teaching? (Where’s the money going?) (Mt.6:33)

--Is the hope of Christ’s return a focal point or is the focus merely the outworking of His Kingdom on earth? (II Tim.4:8)

--Does it fuel a looking forward to the Kingdom of Heaven or a present Kingdom with tangible present rewards? (Titus 2:12,13)

--Is the teaching clearly sourced in the declarative teachings of the Word of God or in logically derived, or experientially based teachings? (II Tim.4:3,4)

******************

Having said all that, it’s hard to improve on Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonian believers:

“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.

See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men.

Rejoice evermore.

Pray without ceasing.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Quench not the Spirit.

Despise not prophesyings.

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

Abstain from all appearance of evil.

And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and [I pray God] your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Faithful [is] he that calleth you, who also will do [it].

Brethren, pray for us.” I Thess. 4:14-25

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When this generation is winnowed will there be a harvest of righteousness? Will we have tested and clung to the truth, no matter how ‘old-school’ it seemed, and let the fluff of chaff blow on with ‘every wind of doctrine’? May it be so.

“Praise is due to You, O God…to you who hear prayer…Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!” Ps. 65:1-4

--LS

*honorofkings.org by Kevin Kleint, “Working for the Elijah List”

**”Three Little Kittens” (Follen (1787-1860))

**Cited in an article in American Anthropologist titled “The Absorption Hypothesis: Learning to Hear God in Evangelical Christianity” (p.3,4). A fascinating secular study which raises many interesting questions for the believer in pursuit of hearing from God. You may hear more from me on this one?! Available on the Internet as a PDF file.

January 6, 2012

Such Love

I sat sobbing as the credits rolled, overwhelmed by the story I had just seen, the love of a devoted wife that had stuck with her man through thick and thin, through insanity and paranoia—true genius gone amuck. She was beautiful and committed, her man’s salvation. And here was her reward--as he stood at the podium in his latter years receiving the Nobel Prize for his accomplishments long years before—he attributed his success to the woman who had stuck with him through it all. I wept.

I don’t think the kids quite knew why Mom was crying…maybe they haven’t lived long enough to appreciate such rare love. The movie was a tribute to true love’s redemptive effect; I cried because I too have known such love. Why me? Why should I be beneficiary to the love of a good man devoted unrelentingly to my success, let alone the God of the universe pledged to bless me now and forever. Such love.

I wept too for the thought of such loneliness, such isolation as diseases of the mind create. I thought of my own father in advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease, unable to know or be known by those he loves most, alone in a labyrinth of confusion…but for God, this God who loves still, this God from whose love nothing can separate us, not life, not death, nor any of the things in between…

And admittedly, I wept a little for fear of such aloneness coming to me. Life is lonely at its core even in the best of times. We are known and loved in such a limited way by flesh and blood. Noone knows us as we wish to be known—and should disease impair our minds, what then? And yet, there is no fear in love--this genuine all-surpassing kind of Love that we are lavished with in Christ. We are fully known and fully loved. This too is awesome. And with credits rolling and soundtrack playing ,  (“All Love Can Be” –Charlotte Church*) I sobbed in wonder of it all… The mental illness had not vanished but love had triumphed.

Is this not a picture of life as we know it? Even as believers, as ‘called out’ ones, as ‘holy and beloved’ ones, we suffer—bound to the hope of things yet to come. Redeemed and yet waiting for redemption. And it is only God’s love poured into our hearts that holds us together in the meantime (Rom.5:3-5).  Despite trouble, trial, heartbreak, disappointment, tragedy… we are declared to be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us!” (Rom.8:37)

The movie we had watched was “A Beautiful Mind”. It is roughly based on the true story of a man named John Forbes Nash, a mathematical genius whose theories would impact such diverse fields of knowledge as economics, biology, accounting, and politics. He was portrayed as not only brilliant but arrogant in his student days. The diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia began a long painful process by which he was forced to face his weaknesses and learn to live dependent on others to confirm what is real and what is not. Through the love and commitment of wife and colleagues he eventually returns to the academic world a far humbler and wiser man. The movie was exceptional.  (and to think that he studied and still lives very near my own hometown…)

As is so often the case in movies, this one was too good to be entirely true. I am something of a tortured romantic. I watch the occasional movie to live for just a bit in a world that is better than real life. But I can’t seem to leave off the analysis afterward—was that true? And generally, I am disappointed. So, the morning after the movie I did a bit of research… Yes, these people were quite human. Their good points were exaggerated. Their bad points minimized. Their love imperfect. Sigh. But having pushed past the initial disappointment, still I am inspired by the story, for it smacks of one that is true. Real love does redeem and ennoble and transform. And that’s for real. Those who know how well-loved they are, give witness by their lives to love’s redemptive glory. Those who haven’t realized the extent of God’s love for them have a good thing coming… Me? I’m somewhere in between. But I like what I see!

To know the reaches of God’s love which lie beyond our ability to fathom, (Eph.3:16-18) this is a worthy pursuit for a lifetime. To reflect that love (“Love one another as I have loved you” -- Jn.15:12) is a daunting calling! Who is sufficient for these things?! But every time we see glimmers of the real thing happening, whether in movies, or in real-life, there’s reason to call attention to it and stand in awe of the God who is the author of such love. The subject is inexhaustible! I guess that’s why there are SO many songs extolling love’s virtues. The first that comes to mind is this one, found scribbled on the wall of an insane asylum when the inmate died:

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.”

They say these words were not original but derived from an ancient Hebrew poem which was later amended with two additional verses (Frederich M. Lehman--1917) to comprise the hymn we know today as “The Love of God”.

One blogger has fittingly called its opening lines his “Blogger’s Acknowledgment”: The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell. He explains:

In this kingdom of the blog world we have a seemingly unlimited sky of parchment on which to write and everyone does appear to be a scribe by trade. Each keyboard is certainly the stalk and quill utilized by every scribe and according to the "Google Blogger" we will not even come close to draining dry their hard drive….So whether with ink, quill and parchment or keyboard, mouse and cyberspace [these] words… express the inexhaustible and ineffable nature of God’s love towards His people. I’ve called our inadequacy to exhaust the expressions of His love through writing: ‘This Blogger’s Acknowledgment’ (Dave Van).

As for my blogger’s tribute, I will leave you a little collection of better words than mine, on this great love...

“O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.”

--George Matheson 1842-1906

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!”

--Samuel T. Francis 1834-1925

 

And lastly, my confession, taken from Laura Story’s lyrics in “Faithful God”

All I am and all I’ll ever be, is all because [God] loves so faithfully…Ahhh… such love.

--LS

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Rom.5:3-5

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* James Horner is the composer and conductor of “The Beautiful Mind” soundtrack.

The lyrics of the closing song to this soundtrack are as follows. They hold a more profound meaning when viewed from the vantage point of one loved by God…

All that Love Can Be

I will watch you in the darkness,
Show you love will see you through.
When the bad dreams wake you crying,
I'll show you all love can do -
All love can do.
I will watch through the night,
Hold you in my arms,
Give you dreams where love will be.
I will watch through the dark
Till the morning comes
All the light I'll take you
Through the night to see -
Our light, showing us all love can be.
I will guard you with my bright wings,
Stay till your heart learns to see
All love can be.

--Will Jennings