12 Years a Slave

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I don’t normally write film reviews. Never have actually… but this film was just exceptional enough to inspire me to want to write something. As anyone will say, this was not the easiest movie to watch, not in the least bit. However, I’ll begin discussing it by stating that it is one of the best movies of the year and one of the greatest stories ever told on screen.

Again, the movie isn’t easy to watch, and it shouldn’t be; because it’s one man’s immense tragedy, and it’s also the tragedy of countless thousands of other souls beaten down, literally and metaphorically. The film, which is based on a memoir written by Solomon Northup after his 12-year ordeal, begins with a glimpse of the Northup family’s happy life in New York, where he was a musician, craftsman, and a free man. Those beautiful moments with his family are over quickly, as a pair of low-life scam artists pull off the wicked guise of hiring Northup to play for a party out of town, the pair of crooks drug him, kidnap him, and then turn him over to a slave trader (played by Paul Giamatti). Soon after that Northup, along with other would-be slaves stand naked in a grandiose home’s parlor, as customers are invited to inspect the “property for sale” at their leisure.

12 Years a Slave wouldn’t be as effective in its delivery on the big screen if it weren’t perfectly cast (with Chiwetel Elijofor, Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Sarah Paulson, Lupita Nyong’o) performed with searing honesty, smoothly written (by John Ridley, from Northup’s own memoir), and unflinchingly filmed without holding back the disgusting depravity of the era; you’ll want to look away, particularly during a sequence involving Patsey near the end, but you won’t. You will painfully watch and feel your heart being broken for these men and women. It’s a chapter in American history that’s still seen too little screen time, too little honesty, and it will haunt you long afterward.

“I don’t want to survive,” says Solomon Northup early on, refusing to accept his horrific change in circumstances after he has been tricked and sold into slavery. “I want to live!”

Some critics seemed to have gotten too caught up in the character of Samuel Bass having come into the picture abruptly (and even more distracted by Brad Pitt starring in the role), that they seem to neglect taking the time to reflect on all the truth that was spoken during the scenes involving Bass. Truth is truth, no matter who is saying it. The Bible even tells us that God once spoke through a donkey (Numbers 22:22-41)… so we should probably still reflect on the profound truth being uttered by Brad Pitt’s character, Samuel Bass.

One comes away from watching 12 Years a Slave, which ends with Northup restored to happiness and liberty, filled with some joy for his eventual return to his family, but also with a surpassing sorrow for all that he had to endure. It seems simply incredible that any man could endure even one day a slave, much less that the human mind could pass through such an ordeal for 12 years and emerge not only intact but capable of generous, lucid, and occasionally artful prose. Though the film adaptation ends at the same place the book memoir does (with Northup reunited with his family in New York) the film strikes a decidedly different note. When Ejiofor’s Northup, now dressed in a freeman’s clothes as he had been before his ordeal, walks through the door of his home and is greeted by his family dressed in their Sunday best, his face appears similar to what Job’s must have looked like when he was presented with his new, replacement family. The sensation is no longer one of amazement that a man’s mind could survive such an ordeal intact, but the hard realization that in some ways it cannot.

It should be noted that I viewed this movie through the lens of a particular worldview and left the theater deeply moved. In the end, we must cling to the promises of God, and the hope that for those who love God all things really do work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.** Because some day, things that look like broken glass to us here will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history.

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Movie Trailer for 12 Years a Slave.

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Don’t be the fool, forgive.

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I was counseling someone recently about forgiveness and seeking reconciliation, and I couldn’t help but start thinking about some of the stupid things I have done in the past, all the horribly immature and petty things done out of pain, heartache, and bitterness. I began to think about how in some instances, I never really apologized to those I hurt or had an opportunity of reconciliation in some of my past relationships…

I have no excuse for any of my past hurtful actions. I am ashamed and embarrassed of the way I have treated some people; even people I loved, because none of how I treated them, was ever a display of that love. Any good memories there once were of some things, well, I tarnished those with spiteful and childish actions.

I’ve had to work through many of my own heart issues and come to the painful realization that in every bit of the bitterness and pain I felt towards some people, well, it was actually me who was the root-cause. The real issue and problem stemmed from my own selfish and prideful heart (Matthew 6:12-15, Luke 17:3-4). I could not continue to blame anyone else for my actions.

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” – Teddy Roosevelt

The line between all that I was and all that I hated has been thinner than I’ve ever wanted to believe or acknowledge. Eventually I realized that I could not stay angry, bitter, or resentful towards someone unless I felt superior to them (2nd Corinthians 2:5-11). Because there is no bitterness without pride. I lied to myself, believing I would never do anything like what others had done to hurt me. But if one struggles with anger and bitterness, it is because pride is at the root of it. My own pride made me the fool and robbed me of more joy than any wrong that had ever been done to me. I’m sorry for those I’ve hurt in the past that it took me treating some people so poorly, hurting them, upsetting friends and family, and causing so many problems as the consequences of my own foolishness. It can be quite embarrassing how long it has taken me sometimes to begin to really be convicted about my pride and figure some things out.

Rather than learning many of these lessons from watching others or reading a book, my stubborn self has had to learn by painful experience that false conviction is a reflex reaction caused by self-disgust, a sorrow over the consequences of sin. True conviction is an abiding sorrow over the offence against God, and while not the natural response, it does demonstrate that God has begun a good work that He will complete (Philippians 1:6). True conviction is followed by true repentance. False conviction is followed by counterfeit repentance that only sees and fears the consequences of sin and the pain it causes others. Often this leads to a temporary change in behavior without a heart change.

“Teach me to feel another’s woe, to hide the fault I see, that mercy I show to others, that mercy show to me.” – Alexander Pope

When we begin to grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others. God has modeled perfect forgiveness for us. Despite the magnitude of our offense against Him, God does not forget in order to forgive. He forgives in spite of our sin.

If we are ever to learn to truly forgive we must learn it from God. This means we must be forgiven first by accepting the forgiveness extended to us in Christ (Ephesians 1:7, 2:4-10, Colossians 1:14, 2:13, 3:13). As forgiven children, we are not required to forget the wrongs against us. Believers can forgive in the midst of pain because we have been forgiven much. We are set free from the bondage of unforgiveness and the slavery of bitterness in order to extend the life-giving freedom of compassion (Hebrews 10:18). We remember the grace shown to us and extend that same grace to others.

“Everyone wants judgement when it’s not their own foolishness being revealed. Praise Christ for grace in foolish moments and mercy for consistent failures.”

Practically, this may take time, and that is okay. We are often wronged in deeply painful ways. So be true and real. When you are hurting, hurt. But in the hurt and suffering, seek to understand that there is coming a day when all suffering will be removed, and you will be made whole. You have refuge in the only truly innocent sufferer, Jesus Christ, who is understanding and sympathetic to your pain. Because, when the Gospel and the cross are viewed correctly and understood, it will lead not to you standing next to the cross and telling others to get right, but we will instead find ourselves kneeling on the ground at the cross telling others there is room.

So forgive, not to the degree to which you forget, but to the degree to which you realize you have been forgiven much. As one made in the image of Christ, extend the same kind of forgiveness you have received. Because God’s grace came into your hands free of charge to you, we are to redistribute it the same way.

“Forgiveness isn’t an end in itself. The point of forgiveness is to remove the barrier that stands between us and God so that He can give us His Spirit and bring us into His everlasting family.” – Darrell Bock

As for any of you reading this that might be thinking, “Alright, I get it, I’ve been able to forgive others who have hurt me, but I’m still really struggling to forgive myself for some of the terrible things I’ve done. We need to realize that when we say, “I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself,” what we really mean is that we have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to us than God’s. We should remember the words of the apostle John in the book 1st John 1:9, as well as the wise words of C.S. Lewis here, in that: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

The “Necessity” of Pain

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In the Book of Hebrews, chapter 11 and 12, the author does a masterful job explaining how “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Then goes on the unpack how Jesus Christ is the author, founder, and perfecter of our faith. However, for those of us still skeptical after reading the book of Hebrews… think about a time when you went to a doctor.

Seriously, stop and consider a time when you went to a doctor. If you’re like most people, chances are you have gone to a doctor at some point for an issue, and you found out you needed a routine procedure. It was nothing major, in fact it was really quite simple, and could be taken care of at an outpatient office. You were told about what needed to be done by the doctor, and even some close friends had gone through the same thing. You felt confident going in, and you knew what needed to be done and there was nothing at all to worry about. Nobody had ever had any problems or complications with this kind of minor procedure before. However, when you got to the doctor’s office, and walked into the room, you saw the knives, needles, and other tools that were about to be used. All of a sudden you were having doubts, second thoughts, and questioning the very necessity of this whole thing… what the heck happened?

It was sight… that sneaky little thing called sight had done you in. Your very seeing of the medical tools caused you to doubt… until then, you were as calm and cool as a cucumber… you knew when walking into the room everything was going to be okay, and you had a very real rational, cognitive understanding of the whole situation… but now after seeing a knife and needle, you were freaking out a little… (or maybe it was a routine filling at the dentist and the moment he busted out that needle to stick in your gums, you began wondering if you really even needed that tooth after all…)

While our doubt is healthy inquiry, disbelief is a willful choice. So, what if we do believe… we must ask then, why do so many of us who claim that we believe in God, trust Him, and put our faith in Him, start to second guess the very Creator of our life the moment we see a little dry patch in our life, or the second we spot a desert in the horizon?

“You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” – Gandalf to Bilbo, at the end of The Hobbit

When we really consider what has helped us grow and mature most in our life, we will usually see it wasn’t the best or easiest circumstances. Many people have to admit that most of what they really needed for success in life came to them through their most difficult and painful experiences. Some look back on an illness or great setback, and recognize that it was an irreplaceable season of personal and spiritual growth for them.

“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” – Ecclesiastes 7:1 (ESV)

When God wounds, He wounds like a surgeon. He doesn’t wound like a criminal. He doesn’t bash your whole world with a bat; that is not what He does. But God will lovingly take the scalpel to you. We all, like a cancer patient, have a serious infliction of sin in our hearts, and often times that requires some rough chiseling and intense reshaping of our hearts. Because the heart of the problem with humanity is the problem of the heart.

“The most perplexing theological question is not why there is suffering in this world, but why God tolerates us in our sinfulness.” – R.C. Sproul

Just as Job’s patience in suffering turned him into an example that has helped hundreds of millions of people, and just as Jesus’ temptations prepared Him for His history-changing and world-saving career, so God’s Spirit leads us into our wilderness for our good.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. . . . [Pain] removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Advice on suffering from one who has never suffered deeply is always shallow, stale, and unconvincing. Wounded healers are needed, and in Christ, we have a great physician who suffered more than we can imagine. When you are in moments of pain or shock, the things that come out of your mind and mouth are the most primal things in your being. And when Jesus was in such moments, out came the words of the Bible.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” – John 16:20-24 (ESV)

The Problem of Evil and Suffering

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This is a brief reflection on how evil and suffering may be, if anything, further evidence for God and our eternal need for His grace. For if you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because He hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have at the very same time a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t possibly know or understand. But you can’t really have it both ways. Most of our modern objections to God are based on poor or warped views of “fair play” and justice.

As a Christian, we should realize better than others that most of what we’ve needed for success in life comes from us having to go through some very difficult and painful experiences. We should be able to look back on our lives and see that sometimes that illness, disappointment, or an extremely difficult period we struggled through was not God turning His back on us, but rather an irreplaceable season of personal and spiritual growth. Just as Job’s patience in suffering turned him into an example that has helped hundreds of millions of people, and just as Jesus’ temptations prepared Him for His history-changing and world-saving career, so God’s Spirit leads us into our wilderness for our good.

Advice on suffering from one who has never suffered deeply is always shallow, stale, and unconvincing. Wounded healers are needed, and in Christ, we have a great physician who suffered more than we can imagine. Therefore, it is a detrimental mistake to think that if you abandon your faith in God it would ever somehow make the problem of evil or suffering any easier to handle. However, many people claim that “all the philosophizing in the world does not just let God off the hook.” God, however, more than cripples this complaint by what He has done through Jesus Christ. God deliberately came to earth to “put Himself on the hook” for us and experienced the greatest depths of pain and suffering imaginable on our behalf.

Christianity does not provide the reason for every single experience of pain and suffering, but it does supply us with deep resources for actually facing pain and suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair. On the cross Christ went beyond even the worst physical, emotional, and spiritual human suffering and experienced cosmic rejection and pain that exceeds ours as infinitely as His knowledge and power exceeds ours. In Christ’s death, He suffered in love, identifying with the abandoned and godforsaken. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it upon Himself. We cannot even begin to fathom the depths of His love and there will never be a greater love than that of Jesus Christ (John 15:13).

To suffer for Christ out of love and obedience in the face of pain, rejection, and suffering is the greatest thing we could ever do with our lives (2nd Corinthians 5:11-21; Hebrews 2:10-18). We should, especially as Christians, find joy in our pain and in turn praise Christ through our sorrows. For in the end, the beautiful promise of the Gospel is that even if we lose everything in this world, we still have Christ. We still receive the greatest thing there is in our relationship with Christ, because “for to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). We cannot comprehend the immense value and worth it is just to know Him and be known by Him.

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.” – 1st Thessalonians 5:9-10 (ESV)

Also, as Christians we need to know that our suffering is not in vain. Because for those who suffer, the Christian faith provides a resource not just for the teaching of the Cross, but also for the fact of the resurrection as well. Christ promises a future that is not just a consolation for the life that we suffered through or the life that we never had, but a restoration of the life we’ve always wanted. Jesus insisted that His return will be with such power that the very material world will be purged of all decay and brokenness. Christ promises that He will not only heal all things, but all that might-have-been will be.

Our hope is that in Christ and the restoration He is going to bring, everything sad is going to come untrue and it will somehow be greater for having once been broken and lost. So that some day, things that look like broken glass to us here will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history.

Happiness, and the pursuit.

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“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” – Blaise Pascal (mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, philosopher, and theologian)

Even the man who takes his own life does so in the pursuit of his own happiness. It is the driving force behind everything you do. So pleasure isn’t the problem, nor is the pursuit of pleasure. So, what do we do with what King Solomon says in the book of Ecclesiastes then? What do we do with Solomon, who pursues pleasure with all his might and then comes back and says, “Well, you can pursue it if you want, but it’s meaningless. It’s all just chasing the wind, trying to hold onto oil with your bare hands.”

Well, C.S. Lewis can help us out a little bit here. One of his most famous quotes is, “I didn’t come to God to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port could do that.” And then there’s also this one, “If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics….”

(Immanuel Kant was a philosopher who basically taught that to the level in which you enjoyed something, you lessened its virtue. So essentially, according to Kant, it is more virtuous for a husband to hate his wife but stay with her because of commitment than it is for him to love his wife and love being with her. So, his idea was pretty much that it is more virtuous for a husband to deplore the very existence of his wife, but because of his vow, stay with her than it is for him to love her with his whole heart. Kant really needed a hug. Anyways, I digress…)

“… I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. 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.”

So God, according to C.S. Lewis, doesn’t look at us and go, “I can’t believe they’re seeking their own pleasure,” but He looks at us and goes, “They’re not seeking hard enough.” Now, this is the big famous part of this quote, “we are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and 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.”

When sin entered the world and fractured it, Paul says in Romans 1, that what happened is that you and I exchanged the infinite creator God for His creation. And when that took place, we began to settle for temporary fleeting pleasures rather than what is eternal and soul satisfying.

Paul summarizes what sin does to all of us in 2nd Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Sin turns us in on ourselves. Sin makes us shrink our lives to the narrow confines of our own little self-defined world. Sin causes us to shrink our focus, motivation, and concern to the size of our own wants, needs, and feelings. Sin causes all of us to be way too self-aware and self-important in our own eyes. Sin causes us to be offended most by offenses against us and to be concerned most for what concerns us. Sin causes us to dream selfish dreams and to plan self-oriented plans. Because of sin, we really do love us, and we have a wonderful plan for our own lives.

What all this means is that sin is essentially antisocial. We don’t really have time to love others, in the purest sense of what that means, because we are too busy loving ourselves. What we actually want is for others to love us as much as we love ourselves, and if they were willing to do that, we will all have a wonderful relationship. So we try to co-op our friends and family into willing submission to the plans and purposes of our claustrophobic kingdom of one.

Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo said it this way when he experienced the joy of knowing God, “How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose… You drove them from me… You, who are the true, the Sovereign Joy! You drive them from me and took their place, You who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, who You outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any of the secrets in our heart. You who surpass all honor, though not in the eyes of men who see honor in themselves. Oh Lord, my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation… You who are sweeter than all earthly pleasures…”

Let me try to explain it to you this way. All frustration is birthed out of unmet expectations. Ten years ago, you had in your mind this picture of what you wanted life to look like ten years from then, and you thought that if you could obtain it or get to it, you would be happy and satisfied. If you could just obtain this or that, or be here or be there, if you made it to this point, you’d be satisfied and content; because your real god is what you most effortlessly think about, and you were probably chasing after something finite. And so, for the last ten years you have put all your energy, and whether you did this consciously or subconsciously, you did this to get somewhere. If you’re type A, then you probably even wrote it down in your little Moleskine planner and mapped it all out, what you had to do every day to get there.

Most of us just thought, “Man, if I could just get out of school, if I could get a good job, if I could find a husband/wife, if I could have children, if I could make enough money to go on vacation, if I could get a car that actually ran half the time, if I could afford a house, if I could afford a bigger house, if I could do this, if I could get that, etc…” And so we began to work that ten-year plan. Now, the reality is, if you’ve met those goals, you probably might not even know it because you’ve already replaced that ten-year plan with a new ten-year plan because what you thought would satisfy you, has not. And so, what happens is, you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you’ll work the next ten-year plan, and then you will die, and be painted up like a clown, and be put in the ground. That’s it.

And almost all of us, whether we’ll admit it or not, have bought into the philosophy that what we need to finally make us happy is more of what we already posses, and it’s madness. It’s why we shop, why we buy things we don’t need, why we work extra, why we work less, why we watch certain movies and television shows, why we fantasize about things that are not reality. You don’t buy out of need, you buy out of boredom. Most people don’t buy a new vehicle because theirs blew up, got stolen, or they had a wreck. I mean, just listen to people talk sometimes. It’s insanity. Well, I had to get the oil changed and it needed all new tires, and that’s like at least $500-something. I’m not wasting that kind of cash on that old piece, I’m just going to get a new car. You don’t buy clothes because yours are absolutely done. Really, you don’t. Almost nobody reading this has gone, “Oh, I can’t wear my jeans at all anymore. They’ve completely disintegrated.” Instead, we go and buy new jeans that have already been partially disintegrated for $90. And I admit make stupid purchases too. I’m not saying there’s you and then there’s me. I’m saying “we.” And it is outright evidence that we live boring, predictable lives, and we try to numb it and turn it off by acquisition. But in Ecclesiastes, king Solomon is going, “Hey man, I did it all. I did it bigger and better than you’ll ever do. I had more money, more success, more sex, worked more, relaxed more, partied more, partied harder, I did it all. Here’s the deal. It’s all meaningless.”

Okay, so why? Why is this happening? Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has placed eternity into our hearts. Now, this is going to be an abstract idea, so please try to follow me. Because I don’t know how to fully explain this to you, but I believe it with all my heart and I believe that Scripture contends that this is correct. What the text means when it says that God has placed eternity into our hearts, is that at some level, in the deepest parts of our souls, our souls remember, however that happens, what life was like before the Fall. So, the soul, at some really deep level, has had this groove cut into it, where it remembers what it was like before sin entered into the world. And so, we remember, at a really deep level now, that at one time, we were full and at one time, we were happy and at one time, there was nothing weighing us down. And the soul is groaning, according to Scripture, to get back there.

The problem is, the groove is shaped like eternity and all that we have to fill it with is temporary. And so, we cram it with temporary, fleeting false joys, and it never fills it. And so, we think if it gets bigger, if we can make it bigger, the temporary pleasure lasts a little bit longer; or if we continue to get a little bit larger, we can finally fill the chasm. But it’s never going to take place because it’s not going to be big enough. And here’s why I’m afraid for you, afraid for us. King Solomon finally gets to the end of his goal to find ultimate pleasure and says it’s all vanity, it’s all meaningless, and you do not posses the resources to ever get there. And so, my fear for you, my fear for so many of us, is that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives chasing our tails, chasing what we already posses, that has brought us no lasting happiness, only to die on the treadmill of a false reality, never being content, or truly happy.

I’ll quote C.S. Lewis again here, because he just really had some great, insightful thoughts on all of this. Lewis said, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that real thing. God is after His glory, for our joy, even when we can’t see how in the moment. Our joy is not the purpose of the Gospel, but an inevitable outcome of it. Because if it is true that God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him, then He definitely is for our joy. God is all about His glory, and the chief end of man is to enjoy God, and enjoy Him forever.

Rough Days

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Do you ever have days where you just feel beat down, overwhelmed with this sense of guilt or shame, kind of hollow inside, crushed by the continuous thoughts of “what if” and “if only,” like you don’t measure up to where you think you should be, plagued with this sense that you’ve gone too far, that you’re lost, that hope is but a fleeting fairy tale never to actually be found?

I’ve had these kind of rough days, and I might have some bad days again sometime in the future. What about today though? Are you having a rough day today, feeling anything at all like what I described above? I’d like to remind you of something that I have to constantly remind myself of: Get over yourself.

Your weakness shows your infinite need for Christ. Sometimes we seem to forget the whole gospel, and only listen to the part about how much we lack. The gospel doesn’t end at, “You are a worthless piece of garbage that can’t accomplish anything good on your own, you’re just a good for nothing sinner who can never escape your past, let alone outrun your present….” The gospel message doesn’t end there. It climaxes in the BLOOD SOAKED CROSS OF CHRIST, with Him crying out, “IT IS FINISHED!” And three days later Jesus raises from the dead to defeat death and conquer sin. (And it doesn’t even end there, it just gets better… because someday, everything sad will become untrue.)

Stop dwelling on how weak you are today and think about how great and powerful our God is, always! Your righteousness has nothing to do with your good deeds. Do you not realize that you cannot even rest in your own good deeds? No matter how numerous they may be, no matter how great a deed you have done might be, it will never measure up as any semblance of a righteous standing before a truly Holy God.

To be blunt, and not skirt around the issue, even our good deeds, our very best works, are but dirty rags, filthy garments, bloody cloth, and piles of crap in comparison to the righteousness of Christ that has been imparted to us (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 5:15; Philippians 3:8-9; Titus 3:3-7; among many verses that would substantiate this view). And while it was our sin that needed to be paid for through righteous, innocent blood in order for reconciliation to take place, it was actually the love and obedience of Christ that held Him to the cross. (Similar to there being two wills of God, or reasons that coexist, yet one supersedes another in importance.) We are all far worse than we’ve ever dared to imagine, yet in Christ, we are far more loved than we ever dreamed we could be.

Your righteousness was bought, it was purchased in blood, by Jesus Christ. He went to the cross and suffered the worst beating and loneliness any human has ever experienced all while knowing every stupid thing you would ever do, every bad thought you would ever have. And He did not do it in a begrudging manner, He did it in GLAD SUBMISSION!

The men that mocked God in the flesh to His very face, He created them. The men who spit upon Jesus, He designed their very saliva glands. The men who whipped Jesus and beat Him mercilessly, He gave them sight. The men casting lots over His clothes, Jesus foreknew and was sovereign over the outcome. The men who ripped the beard out of the face of Jesus, He kept their muscles operating. The men and women hurling insults at Christ as He carried the cross, He kept their lungs continually inflating with air. The men who nailed Jesus to the cross, He kept their hearts beating. The very men and women whom Jesus Christ spoke into being, the very people He created, were beating, mocking, and trying to shame Him… and He was sustaining their lives throughout every moment of it.

Do you struggle with believing that Jesus loves you. Not the idea that He loves everyone. But YOU. God loves YOU. Not you ten years from now after you’ve “cleaned yourself up” some, but you today, you right now. He does. Jesus loves you. How can we know this? Because Jesus despised the shame of the cross, and the mocking of His love. He went to the cross for the JOY set before Him in the ransoming of your soul, the fulfillment of your life.

Many of us still wrestle with this amazing truth in monumental ways; we’re still walking in doubt because we just doubt God’s affection for us. Do you know what that really is when we do this? It’s idolatry, because what you’re doing in essence, is looking at the bloody cross of Jesus Christ and going, “That’s just not enough. You’re going to have to show me something bigger than that to convince me You really love me, that You’re really for my joy.” Some of us are still wrestling with all of this because we doubt Christ’s affection for us despite the fact that He went to the cross and died for you. We lose sight of the fact that He went to the cross despite knowing you, despite knowing every single stupid thing you’ve ever done, every single dumb thing you have yet to do, as well as every single horrible thought you’ve ever had or have yet to think. He knew/knows you better than you even know yourself, yet He still went to the cross for the joy set before Him; of buying you back from enslavement to sin, with His own blood.

All the sin, weaknesses, and failures in the life of a believer have already been fully covered by the blood-soaked cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s grace is exponentially and infinitely more powerful than any sin. So we can break the silence, stop drowning in shame and guilt, walk out into the light, and face the things that God is calling us to face.

We should look to the cross at least ten times for every time we begin to dwell on our own sin. Because God will never give you a task to complete without enabling you with the resources to accomplish it. He is the resource. His grace and love have already ransomed you. I’ve heard it said that sanctification is the process of further understanding and living in light of your already received salvation. We must depend on the Father’s love, the Son’s sacrifice, the Spirit’s help. We must always run back to and rest in the Gospel.

Some day, things that look like broken glass to us here, will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history. So, for today, please, get over yourself. God loves you because of who He is! NOT because of who you are! You are loved.

In Christ there is forgiveness…