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.

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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.

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.”

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 pot calling the kettle “god”

I’ve been reading through Isaiah, and realized that God has a lot to say about idols, and where Israel’s trust can be found. Most recently, the following passage has been sitting heavy on my heart:

9 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
10 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”

11 Thus says the Lord,
the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
“Ask me of things to come;
will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?

This passage, following directly after passages commenting on the futility of worshiping things made by human hands, is especially potent to me. It takes the idea that what we create to worship has no power, and goes a step further; just as the statues and totems of false gods cannot affect our lives, we cannot presume to control God, nor do we even have a platform from which to question His judgement.

I am especially guilty of this, consistently plotting and planning my next steps in life, and expecting God to quietly and quickly acquiesce. In my efforts to manipulate God, I’ve contrived for myself a god who exists not to glorify Jesus’ perfect name, but to grant wishes; my own personal genie. And inevitably, this god that I dreamed up is powerless in the world, and merely causes stress and anger as I am met with trials that are too great for me, not to mention the fictional character I conjured. Of course, I direct my disappointment and disbelief towards the True God, but in reality, my own actions and tendency to trust in things besides Him led to my unmet expectations.

Praise the True God for His righteous word! In it I am reminded who He is, and who I am through Him. Praise Him that He doesn’t need me! Can you imagine if the architect responsible for your DNA and the structure of the Milky Way were reliant on our feeble efforts? I struggle to wake up each day, much less uphold the physical laws that govern the movements of the universe! No, it is by God’s merciful design that I am powerless without Him; the ease with which I can stray into corruption means it is altogether good that I am dependent on Him.

I would even argue that if God did need us, it would dilute His love for us. His grace and mercy to us would be nothing more than His way of coercing us to meet His own needs. As a sovereign being with no needs, His choice to pour out mercy and grace can only be seen as the result of a great and abiding choice to love.  The purest love is love that endures when there is nothing given in exchange.

My prayer this month is that we all grow to a deeper understanding of who God is, and who we are as a result of His work in the world. I pray that we would see what areas of our lives are devoted to idols, and repent of our misplaced trust. I pray that as we further our knowledge of how little we “should” mean to God, it will expand our gratitude towards Him for valuing us anyway. As that happens, I expect that it will become more and more natural to respond to trial with an attitude of trust and faith in God.

#read7in7 day 4

“I will not fight you,” Gordon said through clenched teeth. His attackers laughed.

“Are you afraid?” The leader sneered. The rest of the pack began taunting him and shouting obscenities.

“The King has called me to make peace; His greatest command is to love those who wish me ill. I will not fight you.”

“Your king is dead,” he shot back, his sadistic rage boiling over. Gordon’s ears burned as blood rushed to his head. His temper flared, but he swallowed hard and tightened his hold on his staff.

Thirty-five years earlier, Gordon was a young boy, and homeless. Born in the streets, he never met his parents. The man who raised him was a liar and a thief, who took joy in the misery of others. Frequently he would remind Gordon of his orphancy just to watch him squirm. Quincy abused all the children he kept, in every way imaginable, but he was a source of food, and so the urchins and outcasts would flock to him, hopeless and haggard. If you have ever felt inescapably drawn to something you hated and knew was destroying you, you understand why Gordon never left Quincy’s band of thieves and assassins.

He used to dream of being free, but always the pangs of hunger drove him back on his knees. More than once he considered taking his own life, but somehow he could not bring himself to follow through, whether because of his fear of the unknown, or because of a deep sense of hope which could not be extinguished; or perhaps a bit of both. Then one day, he picked the pocket of the King Himself; His highness quickly caught young Gordon, who expected to be slain on the spot. Even after all these years, he could still remember the wild fear that smote his heart as the King began hauling him towards the palace. With the fervor and severity of a rabid wolf, Gordon fought the King. When they arrived, the King spoke to him kindly. Gordon could never forget His voice. Rich like chocolate, smooth like cream, sweet like honey, clear like spring water, deep as the earth itself, and refreshing as a cool breeze, His voice stilled the storms in Gordon.

“I have decided to make you my son. I want to adopt you as my own.”

And so, a new life started for the former gutter-rat. The King lavished gifts of all kinds on his child. The food, never in short supply, filled and nourished Gordon in ways he could not have even dreamed. The King began to teach the boy all His ways, and the young pupil learned to trust his Father. Unfortunately, old habits cling like sticker-burrs in wool, and the vile patterns of his old life sometimes returned. Despite his luxurious diet, he found himself sometimes craving the greasy potage that barely kept him alive before. Without thinking, he occasionally would slit a coinpurse and pilfer as previously. But again and again the King would find him, remind him of the love that bound them together, and restore him to the palace. Gordon hated that he ever returned to the ways Quincy had taught, but it increased his amazement at the King’s patience all the more.

When the King disappeared, no one felt more lost Gordon. At first he thought the King was jesting, but the benevolent monarch recorded the truth for Gordon on parchment. It reminded Gordon of all the King had taught him, and assured him that his Father was still with him, if he remembered all he had learned from the Ruler.

“There are still so many others who do not know me, and I have more than enough in my abundant wealth to rescue them all. I am going to secure a palace large enough for all the poor and needy. I need you to tell them about Me. Explain to them that I love them all, and deeply desire to make them my own. Many will hate you for this task, and will fight against it, as you once fought against me. You must not return their blows with blows. Love them and allow my love for them to show through you, for I love you. I will return for all who are Mine when the time is right.”

Over thirty years ago, Gordon first read the King’s letter. His life was not his own, he owed all that he had to the King, and could imagine few joys greater than sharing the love shown to him with others. Thinking of the journey so far calmed him and reminded him of what his purpose was. His fear and anger drained from him visibly. His knuckles regained color as he released his vice-like grip on the rod in his hands.

“There is nothing you can take from me by killing me that I would not willingly give up for the sake of the King. You think Him dead, but I assure you that He is alive and vengeance will be His. He will return, whether I live to see it or not.”

“I’m willing to test your resolve to die.” Quincy said cooly. The blade came down with a swift, cruel arc, but Gordon’s eyes did not blink, nor waver at all.

#read7in7 day 3

The salty spray stung his eyes. The schooner rose and fell with the rolling waves, but Saul no longer felt sickened by it. The crew laughed at him when he told them he had found his “sea legs.” Apparently sailors don’t really talk like that. Who knew? He felt a trifle disappointed that they would probably not shout “Land ho!” when they approached the coast.

The journey neared its end, and he was ready to have steady earth beneath his feet. More than that, he was ready to have his love in his arms. When he sailed away 18 months prior, fortune and fate were his desire, but it took little time away to reveal to him the fortune he left behind. He wrote her often, but received nothing in return. Anxiety plagued his heart. Had she stayed true to him? Would she love him more or less since his departure? He stood facing the bow, willing the wind to carry them hastily homeward.

He had trekked foreign lands in search of treasures. Over sandy dunes and through foggy vales he had gone, always seeking something of worth to claim as his prize. In the course of his time, he learned many skills. Swordplay and sailing were second nature to him now. His time spent with languages transformed them into dear friends. He could field dress a deer, and shoot his bow with more accuracy than most. He knew which herbs could suffice for medicine in a pinch, and which berries would drop a man dead. But he did not know if the woman he loved waited for him still.

In the distance the harbor’s lighthouse gleamed faintly. The sun descended behind them. Before them, home beckoned them on. Soon, the crew busied themselves with preparations to dock, and Saul returned to his cabin below deck to pray that Helen would welcome him back. After a time, he felt the slight jolt of wood against wood, and heard the sea men drop the gangplank and begin to unload. With a deep breath, he returned to the deck with his bags, searching desperately for her familiar features.

There she stood, as beautiful as ever, scouring the small ship for his face. Their eyes met, and Saul scrambled to disembark as she fought through the crowds to reach him sooner. The wooden walkway proved slippery, and he lost his footing near the base, tumbling into Helen’s arms. His weight bowled her over, and they hit the cobblestones together. Disheveled and awkward he looked up and said sheepishly, “I’ve missed you, love. I feared you would not come.”

She responded with a kiss.