Creepy crawlies

Infestations always start with something small and totally manageable. Before your house can crumble from the damage of a million termites, a single termite queen must begin laying eggs in the walls. If you could find the queen before the eggs are deposited, you would avoid the entire ordeal with no more effort than a quick stomp of a shoe.

Sin is the same. Before your life dissolves into a puddle of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll, a single act of the flesh must be ignored (or even justified). The tiniest little sin, something that doesn’t even feel wrong or trigger your conscience, can lead to all kinds of deep-seated issues. Additionally, sin can be like an infestation in the sense that sometimes the damage is such that you have to start by doing a little deconstructing of your own before you can start over.

I know this is true because it is in scripture (James 1: 14-15 says “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

Unfortunately, I also know it is true because of my own extensive experience as a sinner. There is a well known statistic that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. Though I’m not prepared to defend this contested idea, I can say with all certainty that if it’s true, my 24.8 years on this earth have given me well over 100,000 hours of practice (and that is if you, rather graciously, assume I only have sin in my heart 50% of the time). So that makes me a master ten times over. But when you master sin, it’s really sin that masters you. And it all starts with a tiny little thought.

The creepy crawly sins in my life right now are materialism and laziness. Exactly where and how they started, I don’t actually know, but I’m finding it really hard to remove from my life. But recognizing the issue is not the same as dealing with it, and when the issue is laziness and materialism, it’s easy to think “I’ll deal with this tomorrow… but for now, why don’t I buy another gizmo, that will make me feel better!”

Only it doesn’t. Not that I really, deep in my soul, think it will or should. And, to be sure, I can justify my sin so easily. I’m not going into debt to feed my desires for more stuff. I’m not missing deadlines at work to watch another season of Doctor Who on Netflix. In fact, I don’t actually buy many things, I just sort of fantasize about having a newer car, a bigger TV, or a faster computer. And I don’t indulge my desire to waste time when I have no time to waste. No, the problem is not that my relationships are in shambles and I am a shell of my former self; the problem is that I have a termite queen laying eggs in my heart, and I’m questioning whether I should stamp her out now.

Praise God for the life, forgiveness, and help He gives! My prayer, right now, in this exact moment of writing, is that He would show me the severity of my sin and remind me that to leave a “small” sin un-squashed is disastrous and foolish. In fact, my prayer is that He would re-teach me the grace He showed at Calvary and help me see that He squashed sin for me. Fortunately, because I know He is good and desires to sanctify those who are His, His answer to requests for help crushing sin will always be yes.

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.

The Pendulum

This is a poem I have been working on for the past few weeks as God shows me the back and forth tendency of my heart. I hope you enjoy it!

My cheeks are burning hot with rage;

Religion is my cozy cage.

 

But it can no more fill me up

Than one who pours from empty cup.

 

The rising water fills each lung

And my good deeds all reek of dung.

 

What shall I do without these rules,

With which I deem all others “fools?”

 

The truly foolish one am I

Who cannot feel my wooden eye.

 

The sickness in my heart does grow,

as evil pulls me in it’s tow.

 

My soul I will gladly harden,

I refuse to tend that garden

 

If “goodness” cannot earn my keep,

Then without sowing I shall reap.

 

I’ll take the things for which I lust

ignoring what I know is just.

 

till I can no more take and take

my heart within begins to wake

 

but Satan heaps upon me, eager,

Shame to make me feel so meager.

 

Yet meager, meek and mild seemed He

Who bore that shame at calvary.

Who paid the price to set me free;

Who ransomed me from slavery!

 

No longer bound to law or sin,

my heart will raise a joyful din.

 

The Son of God I will exalt

And make this state my soul’s default.

Toasting the Bread of Life

I propose a toast to Jesus!

I’ve been reading through Exodus as part of a reading plan, and I was struck by my own tendency to mimic the infuriating behaviors of God’s chosen people. Namely, their seeming inability to trust God no matter how many times He proves Himself trustworthy.

The specific instance I read about today involved God giving very specific instructions concerning how much manna the people were to gather and the people giving God the equivalent of a very specific finger in response. Ok, maybe not quite that harsh (though an event that is that harsh is coming up, I know) but there is clearly a strong theme among the Hebrews of blatant disregard for God here. He promises them that He will meet their needs and care for them, and they basically take the stance of “no thanks God, we got this one!” The kicker, in my opinion, is this: they are doubting God’s daily provision while they are gathering God’s daily provision. In what universe does that make any sense at all?!

Apparently, in the universe I live in. In a sin-laden universe where our fallen nature consistently clouds our judgement and leads us astray. Let me set the scene for you: every morning I wake up to have time in the Word. Every morning I benefit from that time in the word. Somehow, inexplicably, every morning I find myself thinking things like “I read yesterday, that ought to be enough for now… I’ll just hit snoozzzzzzzzzzzz…”

Clearly I’ve adopted an attitude of disregard and distrust for God’s provision. Despite His proven track record of meeting me where I am and revealing Himself to me as I absorb scripture, and despite my proven track record of feeling spiritually underfed on the days I don’t read, I consistently wake up with a mindset of “I gathered enough scripture yesterday… I’ll pass on gathering more today.”

Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 in Luke 4:4, reminding us that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God. Scripture (i.e. the word of God) reveals Jesus (i.e. the Word of God). The Word of God is also the Bread of Life. Exodus 16:18 tells us that those who gathered much manna had no excess; those who gathered little had no lack. A few verses later we learn that those who attempted to store up manna found it spoiled the next day. The Bread of Life, like the bread from heaven, cannot be gathered in excess and, although I can store up what I gather through meditation, I can’t expect my stores to sustain me indefinitely. No matter how much I take in today, I will find myself needing to gather more the next day and the next day and the next day…

So here’s to Jesus, the founder of our feast!

Whose hearts are completely His?

2 Chronicles 16:9a says “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that he may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

In the past 2-3 weeks I have seen my support percentage jump from around 25% to upwards of 70%. Some of this came from drastic budget cuts where I had to remind myself that my trust is in God, not in my own ability to save, but most came in the form of God providing generous people who are willing to be involved in the vision God’s given us, as the benefactors of both myself and the ministry I am going to join.

More so than ever before I feel the weakness of my own flesh weighing down my spirit; Even in the face of these incredible strides toward my financial support goals, I find ways to doubt God, doubt the call in my life, doubt His ability or willingness to provide. How can I be so fickle? How can God use me, fickle as am? Back and forth my mind and heart volley my confidence from the Lord, to myself, and back again!

It is encouraging to know that the Lord seeks to “strongly support” me if my heart is totally devoted to Him. More than anything, I am writing this post in hopes that you would be in prayer, asking God to capture my heart, asking Him to help my unbelief, so that my heart will be His only.