Too Much Beauty, Or Not Enough Capacity?

I am having my morning coffee on board a stately 114 ft, 286 ton yacht, anchored in a very quiet bay. In front of me is the Island of Tortola and to my left is Peter Island, both surrounded by the pristine blue-green waters of the British Virgin Islands. This is the fourth day of an island-hopping adventure with 3 of my college buddies that would surely be at the top of most bucket lists. For the last 4 days I have been surrounded by beauty– certainly not my buddies, although there is a certain beauty to our relationship, but the beauty of the island formations against the backdrop of the blue-black sky; the clouds, the birds, the color of the sea; the trees, the beach huts, the fish, and the sea turtles.

At first, all of this took my breath away. I had no words to describe its beauty. Now I can sit here and write a blog with hardly a thought to my surroundings. Oh, it continues to be beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but is no longer breath-taking. Is it a function of our finite humanity or of our “fallenness” that we cannot sustain the awe of too much reality? You don’t have to agree with me, but I think it is the former; a function of our limited human capacity.

How many times have we experienced something incredible for the first time, only to have it become ordinary the more we experience it? The same is true of negative experiences; pain, grief, and sorrow continue, but neither do they maintain their original intensity. Thus it would seem that God has placed a certain limitation on our ability to sustain pleasure and grief. Once again, please understand, I am not arguing that we cannot not be awed by beauty or be overwhelmed with sorrow, it is just that their respective intensity cannot be sustained.

I bring this up merely because I am in one of the most beautiful places in the world– I am being bombarded by beauty, and it bothers me that I am getting used to it. However, I have discovered that it has led me to worship the God who has created all this beauty and whose very character is beautiful.  My buddies and I read Psalm 8 together one day before breakfast; “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth…who has set your glory above the heavens…what is man that you are mindful of him or the son of man that you should care for him?”

Could this be a reason why we were created with the limitation of getting used to beauty? Perhaps it is so that we would be able to recognize that at the end of our awe (as well as our sorrow), there must be worship. However, instead of worship we simply want more of the awe that can never never satisfy. This worship of experience often leads to disappointment or to idolatry and addiction.

It was CS Lewis who said that “if I find in myself a desire which nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world…Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” This means that physical things are shadows or suggestions of things deeper and more real. This also this means that someday I will no longer be bounded by the limitations of experiencing the “deeper real.” Someday, I will not only be freed from the negative experience of pain, sorrow, and grief, but in my resurrected and glorified body I will be able to plumb the depths of beauty. I will never get used to it nor will I ever say, “Is this all”? And most importantly, the experience will never be separated from worship.

Until then, I will intentionally worship the God of beauty whenever I experience the beauty of what he has made.

My experiment with not thinking (do men really have a Nothing Box)…

I have often wondered if it is true that men have a Nothing Box– a place in their brains which contains absolutely no thoughts. How many times has my wife asked “what are you thinking”? and my reply has been “oh, nothing.” Obviously, women do not have such a box and I can prove it. Not once in almost 44 years of marriage has my wife failed to to tell me what was on her mind when I asked; and many times, even when I didn’t ask. So this was my chance to pull off this groundbreaking experiment since I had the time.

I was at my son’s house and he and my grandson were taking a nap and no one else was home. I sat back in the recliner, put my feet up, closed my eyes and I began not to think.  “ZZZZZ- c’mon Dave, don’t fall sleep, just don’t think.” My stomach rumbled, “I must be hungry. I need to remind myself to get a muffin after this experiment is over. Oh, today is Gloria’s birthday. Concentrate now- why did I just think of orange juice? Stop thinking!”

Things proceeded like this for awhile until I reached the state of non-thought; well, not exactly. I began to think in images… strands of spaghetti, deflated footballs, beautifully crafted sermons floated by my mind’s eye. Suddenly I realized something- I am always thinking, just not very profoundly. Thus the conclusion of my scientifically conducted experiment is (drum roll) that men do not have a Nothing Box because they are obviously always thinking. Instead they have a box for Unprofound Thought and when asked what they are thinking and they respond “oh nothing,” they really mean “oh nothing you would be interested in because it is not very profound.”

I hope this is helpful to women everywhere who probably would argue against my conclusion that men actually have profound thoughts. I would find such sentiment callous and unfeeling because ah…er…I’m not actually sure why… Anyway, if you (women) really desire to understand the men in your life, like Jezebel tried to understand Ahab and Elijah, then you need to accept the theory of unprofound thought instead of no-thought. Thank you very much.

I would be willing to entertain your input on this subject just as long as you agree with me. If you don’t, then I will put your comment in a specially created Nothing Box.

An Article on Revival and a Message on Grace…

For an interesting article just published for the Wheaton Magazine on the Essence of Revival at Wheaton:

My last chapel talk at Wheaton College “Receiving God’s Unmerited Grace” (scroll down to 2014-15 chapel/wheaton college)


Have you faced a transition lately? I’ll be facing another one in a month as I finish up my interim chaplaincy position at Wheaton College, and many of the students that I know are graduating this very weekend. They are facing what I call a 1st Quarter transition and I a 4th Quarter one—hopefully, not the 2-minute drill.

People respond differently to change; some get excited, some nervous, and some become fearful. There is actually a phobia for change called Meta (change)-thesio (place, setting)-phobia; it is in most cases accompanied by feeling of insecurity and lost-ness, and some very real physical symptoms. However, regardless of how you feel about it, change will happen; it is inherent in life. It is said that each cell in your body changes every 7 yrs. You know, if that is true then I’ve been married to 6 different women in my 43 yrs. of marriage!

And so, since life is full of change, there are two unshakeable things that you need to remember. These are things that will never change and will provide a core of stability to the otherwise chaotic nature of transition:

The first thing to remember is the faithfulness of God and his love for you: The hesed v’emet– the utter faithfulness or the steadfast love of the Lord which never ceases and His mercies which never come to an end. Hesed is the Hebrew word for God’s covenant love for His people. It is a love or loyalty that nothing can shatter because it is based upon God’s choice and not on his emotion. Since God has chosen to love us in Christ with His covenant love, there is nothing that can make God love us more  nor lessen His love for us. Remember Paul’s confidant confession at the end of Romans 8 that “nothing (death, life, angels, rulers, etc.) will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Do you really believe that? If you do, why would you ever fear a transition?

The second thing to remember is that you are standing in the grace of God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we hope in the glory of God” (Romans 5:1,2) Let me use your imaginations for a minute and draw you a word picture that will emblazon especially verse 2 on your mind. Ready? Imagine a blank page… draw a circle with a little opening on the right side…  outside the circle next to the opening draw a Cross and then a dot next to the Cross- that dot is you. Color the circle the color of grace, whatever color you think that is; color everything outside the circle a non-grace color.

Now, extend an arrow from the dot thru Cross into the circle…”through him we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” Now close the circle with the dot- you- in the middle. Where are you? Is there an opening in the circle so that you can fall out? What about when you sin? Let’s diagram that… draw a squiggly line down toward bottom of circle and write word “confession”; now, draw a solid line arrow back up to the dot.

Let me ask you; when you fall into sin, do you fall out of grace or back into it? You fall back into “this grace in which we stand.” You must remember this and you must believe that this is true. Through faith in Jesus Christ, you have peace with God and have obtained access into his grace in which you will always stand. 

You will never mature in your relationship with God if you are constantly evaluating what he thinks of you on the basis of how you feel, or by your performance. You must have the confidence that you are in Jesus Christ, and therefore are standing in the grace of God and nothing will ever change that status. You did not achieve God’s grace by your performance neither will you lose it by your stumbling. You are being “kept by God’s power through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last days.” (1 Peter 1:5)

And so as you face the changes of life, remember these two unshakeable things; that the steadfast love of the Lord for you never ceases, and that the grace of our Lord never changes.

Addicted to Love…


Your lights are on, but you’re not home
Your mind is not your own
Your heart sweats, your body shakes
Another kiss is what it takes
You can’t sleep, you can’t eat
There’s no doubt, you’re in deep
Your throat is tight, you can’t breathe
Another kiss is all you need
Ohh oohh…
(“Addicted to Love,” words by Robert Palmer)

It may seem sacrilegious to say, but not all love is healthy– some of it may be downright addictive. I am not talking about romantic love which seems to be at the beginning of most relationships and often leaves us moon struck and imbecilic. Addictive love also begins innocently enough with a good feeling that ends in a euphoric experience. The lovers cannot maintain such a level of ecstasy, so there is a separation and a sense of depression followed by another round of intimacy which takes the experience to new levels; and then the chemistry wears off. Soon one person becomes aware that passion does not a relationship make and pulls away leaving the other to fall into utter despondency. This addictive love most often characterizes “affairs” which take place outside of marriage.

Here is part of a letter written by such a despondent lover still recovering from an addictive relationship: To say I miss you only trivializes the matter for me. I miss the “me” I become when there was “we.” Now that there is no more “we,” I am not “I” but a shadow of my former self that became a self in you. Do you see how self-centeredly dependent this “love” is? This letter gets worse and it ends up sounding like a recovering alcoholic fantasizing about the day when he can be reunited with his drug of choice. He only remembers the good times and not the painful part of the relationship.

And so we see that addictive love is characterized by the rush and thrill of a new experience; where the “me” reigns supreme and yet where one’s identity is lost in the “us” of the relationship. And when the relationship is over there is not just sadness and grief, but anger and confusion and “lostness.”

Not all love is addictive, but neither is all love healthy. Perhaps I am more aware of this right now working on a college campus where love is often misunderstood and unhealthy. So here are some questions that should be asked to test for the qualities of a healthy love that can form the basis of a solid relationship: Could you live without the other person? Are we friends as well as lovers? Are we able to maintain appropriate relationships outside of ours? Do we celebrate each others victories and personal growth or do they make us jealous? Can I stand with you in your sorrows or triumphs without being swallowed up by them? Does our relationship promote or hinder our personal and spiritual growth? Do we give to each other because we love to give or because we want to get? Is there space in our togetherness? (William Lenters, The Freedom We Crave)

This notion of addictive love should not be dismissed out of hand by those of us who have good marriages. Usually affairs don’t begin in the bedroom, but with a hungry heart. Pastors are very susceptible to temptation because they are caring people who deal with needy people. They also are not typically rewarded by monetary gain or promotion, but by a sense of satisfaction when they do help someone. They feel good when they are useful and are fulfilling their calling. It is this powerful influence of “feeling good” that can subtlety hook a pastor and draw him (or her) to someone whose encouragement and affirmation may jump start an unhealthy addictive relationship, and so on…

I am not inferring that feeling good about ministry is wrong, but there are those who while they would never be hooked on drugs of booze get addicted to self-affirming relationships that lead to disaster. Don’t play around with this phenomenon. You won’t survive. “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? (Prov. 6:27) NO!

“Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Prov. 15:32).