Broken and Breaking

I think there are strategies used by the enemy to wage war against the Lord of heaven and earth that are more effective than I tend to realize. One that the Lord has opened my eyes to most recently is Satan’s desire to make us think this world is a comfortable and good place. The reason it’s so dang effective? We know, deep down we can feel it, the world should be a comfortable and good place. We sense the bit of truth in the lie, and it shuts down our defences and lulls us off to sleep through the battles raging around us.

But sometimes, because of His great mercy and love, God will break us of this silly notion. Pain and brokenness surround us, and recently one friend’s trial has been one of a series of events God has used to remind me that this world has been tarnished and cannot function as He intended it to. Scott Frazier and his wife recently had a beautiful baby girl; beautiful, but far from healthy. Davy’s diaphragm didn’t fully form which allowed her abdominal organs to settle in her chest cavity. This in turn hindered the development of her lungs, which has caused a host of other issues.

This news, in conjunction with the tragedies of other friends over the last few weeks, has shaken my faith more than I want to admit. How could this happen? Why would God allow it? My sadness and grief over the heartache of my friends cannot begin to match that of people going through such trials themselves. I am a third party observer of little Davy’s struggle, and I know that my soul could never cry out in anguish the way Scott and Chelsea’s do. But the truth is, even they do not grieve to the extent God does when He looks at the world. His world, mangled and marred by sin and death, causes Him more pain than we can fathom. The world ought not work this way.

And finally, I begin to understand why trials are a blessing, and it’s not because Christians are sadists and masochists. We are not called to enjoy pain, but to rejoice in it. I never seek out calamity, and I don’t find pleasure seeing others in pain, but still I praise God in times of pain because He is reminding His people that this is not our home. This world is broken by sin, but He is fixing it by grace through Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

And though this is talking specifically about mourning those who have died in Christ, I think it applies to those who are suffering in Christ by other means, too. We do weep when we feel sorrow, but it’s a weeping that comes from hope and a certain sense of homesickness at the knowledge that one day Christ will return and set things right, restoring what was lost.

When I look at my life and think “things are going well” I’m tempted to love this world, rather than the God who created it. Sometimes, I foolishly decide to settle for the best the world has to offer because I have forgotten that the world’s best is always countered by the world’s worst. For every “pay it forward” chain at a coffee shop, there is a string of killings by a twisted regime. For every beautiful sunset, there is a blood spattered patch of earth. For every sweet and loving relationship, there is a manipulative and abusive one. And, although that is a sobering and miserable thought, it points me back to Christ and the hope I have for the future outlined in Revelation 21:1-6

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.””

Scott Frazier has a blog of his own called Numbered Days which I highly recommend. His outlook on his duaghter’s situation has been a huge source of encouragement to me. Please visit his blog and be in prayer for his daughter, Davy.

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Patience makes Perfect

I am not a patient person.

Now, to be sure, I know that I should be, and sometimes I can even manage to fake it. I’ll say things like “God’s timing is perfect” or “I trust that God will work things out in His time” but I rarely believe it deep in my heart. Waiting is my least favorite thing! I hate red lights, long lines, buffering, pre-heating ovens, and pretty much anything else that requires any amount of time between “I want” and “I have.”

That said, my gut instinct (and sometimes my actual spoken feelings) is that being engaged is the worst possible thing that’s ever happened to me. Don’t get me wrong! I love Steph with every bit of my energy; my love for her gushes forth from the overflow of God’s love for me. But that’s just it… I love her so much, and I can’t wait to marry her. Well… technically I can (some would even say I have to), but I struggle to do so patiently. Not a moment goes by that I don’t wish were shorter. Have you ever really thought about how long it takes for a second to pass?! A billion nanoseconds. I’m expected to wait another 1.0368×10^15 of them till I get what I want. That’s 1,036,800,000,000,000 if you write it out. Life is so unfair.

All this waiting got me thinking: why is patience a virtue? We all know that waiting is a part of life, but why is it considered a good thing to be happy about waiting? Isn’t that the essence of patience? Being joyful about waiting? So I began to look into scripture. This is what I have learned.

Patience isn’t about being happy that something good hasn’t arrived yet. Patience, in the New Testament, is often talked about in the context of the end times. God is patient with us, delaying the destruction of wickedness for his desire that more people be saved. This doesn’t mean that God is happy that wickedness still exists in the earth, but that the salvation of His elect is worth the delay. We wait patiently for Christ’s second coming. This doesn’t mean we are happy that Jesus has not come back and brought with Him the end of suffering; it means that His return will be glorious enough to make it worth waiting for. The early church withstood persecution patiently, not fighting back or trying to take matters into their own hands. This doesn’t mean they were masochistic and enjoyed being stoned, hanged, crucified, fed to beasts, or slain for entertainment; it means they saw all those terrible things as worth enduring for the cause of Christ.

Waiting is hard for me not because I lack patience, but because I lack the understanding of how good what I wait for actually is! A lack of patience does the opposite of show how much I long for something, it shows that I doubt whether the something is worth waiting for! Patience doesn’t come from waiting, but from a knowledge of what you are waiting for. The better what you are waiting for, the more joy you feel as you wait for it; the joy comes not because you have to wait, but because you know it will be worth waiting for!

So, here’s my challenge for all of you who, like me, hate to wait: figure out what you are waiting for, figure out how much value the person, event, or thing you are waiting for really has, and deepen your appreciation for that thing. As you discover more and more about how worthy of waiting it is, the wait will seem less and less consequential.

For me, I am waiting for Stephanie to be my wife, and that’s worth a lifetime of waiting. How blessed I am to have only 12 days left till that becomes reality.

 

In Sheep’s Clothing

This happens to me a lot: I read a post or article online and think “wow! That’s great advice!” only to have the Spirit whisper to me “Can you really see Jesus saying or doing that?” In those moments, I realize with startling clarity how deceptive and crafty prince of darkness really is.

Sometimes the enemy manifests his clever falsehoods as justification for greed and materialism. This can be everything from “God wants you to be happy” to “You worked hard and deserve it.”  And then it will pop up as a plea to “be who you were born to be” or “follow your heart.” Other times it’s relationship advice that pushes you to cut ties with those who hurt you, or get back at them for the pain they caused. But, though I fully admit that those stories of splendor, individuality, self-preservation, or revenge feel satisfying, is God living in me, or my own flesh, the one gratified.

You see, when I crack open my Bible, I don’t see a God who seeks comfort and wealth, but one who chose torture and death. I don’t see a Savior who acted as He pleased, but one who submitted Himself to the will of God. There is no evidence suggesting that the Lord abandons us when we betray Him again and again. The words of Jesus never include instructions to hold grudges. It’s all too easy to see myself as a good person when my standard of morality originates with internet memes. So where does my standard of morality originate? As a Christian, I believe firmly that God is the one who chooses what is good and just and moral, and He reveals it to us in scripture.

And I fall woefully short of His standard. For my immorality, I have earned condemnation. But despite my sin, God, in His mercy, has sent one to live the moral life I could not and pay my debt for me; to take the punishment I earned, despite not earning it Himself. I could not have earned it, so He gave it freely to me. God’s justice and mercy met inconceivably at the cross, where sin was punished and sinners are saved.

If you sense that you too might be falling for the lies of the world, seeking after wealth, comfort, vengeance, or control, only to be left feeling empty or alone, the solution is easy: Confess to God that you know you sin and cannot save yourself. Ask Him to forgive you and rule over your life. Take joy in the knowledge that as you learn more about Him, He will make you more and more like Christ.

But, even in defeat, Satan seeks to steal, kill and destroy, and one of his best tactics is to dress lies up to look and feel like truth. The most dangerous enemy is one pretending to be a friend.

Daily, then, I must ask God to steel my spirit and sharpen my mind to see through deception and fill me with wisdom and righteousness. I don’t want behavior and philosophy that the world praises, but that God has declared righteous and preserved for me in His word. And the best way to do that? Be a student of His word. Unless you know the truth, you’ll never be able to spot the lies, after all.

Psalm 119:9

How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By guarding it according to your word.”

 

Weary and Heavy Laden?

I can hardly believe that we are already a week into May! The entire month of April felt like a series of stress tests to see what would finally break my spirit. The difficult transition to a new meeting space, overlaid with the busy Easter season, contract writing, wedding planning, Men’s Development Program, and other irons in the fire left me feeling raw and ragged. Why didn’t anyone tell me ministry was this hard?!

You know… other than the New Testament authors, who make it quite clear that ministry will require more from you than you think. Luckily, scripture also makes it clear that ministry will provide you with more than it takes from you, even if it doesn’t feel that way all the time.

Jesus taught fairly extensively about trusting God’s provision and finding rest in Him alone. Rather than take time going into nitty gritty details about everything that’s been going on, I thought it might be good to remind you of words spoken by the Lord of Lords Himself, Jesus Christ.

Matthew 6:31-34

31 “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Later, in Matthew 11:27-30 it’s recorded that Jesus said:

27 “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

And again the idea of Jesus’ sufficiency is taught in John 4:13-14

13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

and John 6:35

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

And in Revelation 21:6-7, God assures us:

And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

And that’s not even to mention all the references to rest, contentment, and trust from the writings of the Apostles!

“do not be anxious for anything” Is a command from Paul.

“Humble yourselves… casting all your anxieties on Him, for He cares for you” are words of Peter.

“Consider it all joy… when you encounter various trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance” wrote James.

And so, at the end of this difficult season, and the beginning of a season that is sure to be difficult in it’s own way as well, I choose to remain confident in the goodness of God, and ready to walk with Him through any tribulation.

Hedonists!

In my most recent update letter, I mentioned that I have been learning about Christian Hedonism, the idea that it’s actually good to seek pleasure because God is the greatest pleasure there is. We are called not just to obey God, but to enjoy obedience! We should delight in the Lord!

Frankly, I often stink at this. It’s common for me to be trudging along, desperately trying to obey when everything in me feels very rebellious. Over the last week or so I’ve found myself feeling especially disconnected from the joy that is, according to scripture, supposed to come with obedience to God.

Today, while reading in Psalms, I came to Psalm 116, and God revealed Himself to me there. In this chapter, the psalmist explicitly states that he loves the Lord because the Lord hears his prayers. The writer was tangled up by death, and God responded when he cried out. God rescued him, thus he loves God.

Starting in verse 12, the tone shifts and he seems to be explaining what his love for God brings about in his life. He starts by questioning what he could do to repay God’s kindness. We know from other passages of scripture that the answer is “nothing.” There is nothing we can do to pay God back. But the psalmist doesn’t say “Nothing, so I’m going to offer nothing.” In fact, he chooses to offer public vows of service, and the “sacrifice of thanksgiving.”

This is clearly a man who is finding joy in serving God. This is not a sense of obligation. He knows he cannot repay God, so we know his motivation for service is not paying off debt. So what is his motivation for serving God? Based on the delight that is evident in his words, I think it’s pleasure. The author of this psalm is serving God because he loves God and it’s pleasurable to serve Him. So here’s the question I had to ask: was I truly finding pleasure in my service to God? If not, why?

And as I re-read the text, I saw a flow: God hears the cry of the distressed, God meets their needs, they love God for his attentiveness, they begin to serve God, God blesses them with abundant joy from their service… But in my fallen perspective, God didn’t seem to be meeting my needs or answering my cries, so my service wasn’t motivated by love for Him. I was believing in a god that is inattentive to the calls of his people. But taking that a step further, the only way I could still have unmet needs is for Christ’s provision on the cross to be insufficient for all my needs. Stated in that way, my mind and soul (and I hope yours too) reject immediately the idea that Christ’s sacrifice was anything less than supremely sufficient.

The God I serve is not just attentive to my needs, and He certainly is not inattentive to them; rather God is pre-attentive to my needs, meeting them long before I even know what they are or have the capacity to cry out to Him for help. I recognize now that the reason God isn’t responding to my cries in my timing is simply that He has already resoundingly responded to every cry in His timing, through the cross at Calvary! And because He has heard my cry and responded before I cried it, I find my love for God restored, my desire to serve Him returning, and my joy in serving replenished!

Psalm 119:14, 16, 24, 35

“In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.”

“I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.”

“Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.”

“Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.”

Impetus

An unexpected chill shocked me as I stepped out into the pre-dawn grey. With nothing passing between us besides a brief acknowledgement of the cold, Kevin and I started our jog. I’d never been to “the rock” and it was too cold to waste precious warm breath making an Alcatraz joke. And so we ran, swift and silent, through the hazy glow of street lights. Soon, the sidewalk stopped, and with it, the convenient lighting courtesy of the City of Austin. Beneath the mostly barren canopy of trees who had yet to launch into their spring rituals, we trekked. What little light managed to climb over the horizon was thwarted by the woods. To me, the trail is indistinguishable from the thorny brush flanking it on either side. I see nothing but obscurity and hues of dark. Left on my own, I would inevitably be lost and injured, tangled in brambles I was never meant to encounter.

However, with my eyes fixed firmly on the one who goes before me, I mimic his movements around hairpin turns, over narrow plank bridges, onto the stepping stones that lead across the shallow stream. He ducks, and I instinctively lower my own head to avoid the unseen branch. He lifts his left hand to block wispy branches that reach out to claw his face, and though I have no visual evidence they are there, I follow suit and feel them slap harmlessly against my forearm. Each warning of “watch out for that rock” or “jump over that pothole” builds trust between us. In this world of shadows, where everything is colored in varied tones of gloom, I realized that running after Kevin, whose familiarity with the trail went far beyond my own, provides an excellent picture of the life of a Christian.

When I follow Christ, I don’t know where we are going. I don’t know what is around the next bend or on the other side of the trial I’m in the midst of. But I know that I’m following someone who does. I know that the more closely I can stick to Him the more timely His help will come, and the more able to stay on the path I will be. There will still be times when I grow weary; when each heartbeat feels like it will burst my head clean apart; when my legs feel like molten lead- dense, unsteady, and fiery hot… But in those times, I can look up and see my Savior- His pierced feet rhythmically thudding along, His loving voice sending me encouragement and warnings- and I can know that my path is known, and at the end of it sits the Rock.

1 Samuel 2:2

“There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.”

Obedience

How would you react if God told you He intended to take your wife, and that you are not to grieve for her? Would you be angry? Would you be skeptical? Would you be wary, distrustful, or blatantly disobedient?

When I am faced with discomfort, sadness, or pain, I tend to react in one of those ways. I grow angry at God for His refusal to bless me. I begin to distrust Him and cling all the tighter the the illusion of control I have over my situation. And, sadly, I often choose to disobey the clear teaching of the Word with unflinching resolve. Clearly I wouldn’t make it as a prophet.

In Ezekiel 24, God explains that Zeke’s wife is to become an object lesson for the exiles in Babylon. He tells His prophet that by not publicly mourning her, he will be showing the displaced people what their response to Jerusalem’s fall should be. This is a hard fact to swallow. If God is good, loving, kind, gracious, and merciful, why is he taking the life of His servant’s lover? What’s more, why is it important that the prophet act as though the loss does not affect him? Athough it’s difficult to think on, the answer, I think, is that God cares much more about holiness (Both His holiness and our own) than he does about happiness. Perhaps He cares more about us being conformed to His image than he does about us being comforted?

And the shocking thing, at least to me, is that Ezekiel doesn’t whine, fuss, complain or disobey. He simply does all that the Lord asks of him. What would it look like in my life to obey so unquestioningly and trust God so completely? It’s easy to look at the trials God puts before us and despair. It’s common to see tragedy and think “no good can possibly come of this…” But who are we to judge God’s plans in our limited timescale? Ezekiel’s life and works are still teaching and giving insight about God to this very day. God, in His sovereignty and eternity, is not bound by what seems right in our finite minds, but is powerful, both willing and able to act in light of the span of human existence.

And, I must always remember, He doesn’t ask us to make sacrifices and make none of His own. In Ezekiel 24:21 God Himself tells Ezekiel ” ‘Say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will profane my sanctuary.’ ” God is acknowledging His role in the destruction of the temple. God is showing His own willingness to sacrifice things dear to Him for the sake of reaching the hearts of His people. I can think of at least one other example of God using the destruction of something dear to Him to reach the hearts of His people…

John 2:18-19, 21

So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

…But he was speaking about the temple of his body.