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Archive for the ‘January 2012’ Category

Only You

Steal my heart and take it far away
Til we’re hiding in a secret place
Where I have no other plans to make
But to find myself in your embrace

Chorus:
I will only love you
I will only love you
I will only love you
Only you, only you God

Oh I live to see your kingdom come
And my good is when your will is done
You can have all that I’d ever want
Only give me more of yourself God

Chorus

Bridge:
My treasure forever
When I seek you with all my might
I will find, I will find you

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Hotel room

If you ask someone to describe worldliness, they would probably use words like materialism, immoral sex, misused power, fame, drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, swearing… But there is a cleaner kind of worldliness that most people see as normal and good. It seems that what it means to be human is to live to be accepted by the popular, partnered with the powerful, honored by the crowd. What we earn, we own. We feel no real obligation to serve the less fortunate, or anyone other than ourselves. We consider ourselves best suited to define and provide what is good for us. We are as concerned about our reputation as we are our character, and care more for happiness than holiness. We seek God as deep as our self-interest. We serve mostly when we can gain in return. We love until we’re not happy anymore.

Putting yourself first, living comfortably, and following your heart is considered sanity. To be selfish seems to be healthy.

Our old nature is so natural to us that I wonder how many will spend their lives thinking it’s the only way to live. We want to be in the world, not of the world, while failing to realize that the world is inside of us as much as it is outside of us. We are the world.

We have been the world, but we are called to be the church. What we thought was home is only a hotel room. What we thought was our self is merely our flesh. What it means to be human is far more glorious than what it has seemed.

We find ourselves in a new culture that is completely counter to our own. We find in ourselves an old culture that is completely contrary to heaven. We must be turned inside out and upside down. We must learn to live all over again – and not only learn like an infant, but we must unlearn how we’ve been human. We’ve had it backwards. We must backtrack to move forward, to become new creatures with new natures in a new culture.

Our new nature is as foreign to us as an alien. Christ in us is an entirely new concept. If we get him in theory, we betray him in practice. We have too many natural bad habits. They’re so natural, they’re normal. And normal is comfortable. And comfortable feels good. And good feels right. And right is how we live our lives.

But what if we are wrong? What if all that feels natural to us is unnatural to God? What if we deem wise what God calls foolish? What if what we feel and what is real are opposites?

Despite how we feel, we are not at the center of ourselves. The truest thing about us is not about us at all.

Our way of life is to live for ourselves, yet the essence of death is self-centeredness. Our concept of freedom is to serve ourselves, but that is our greatest bondage. We are our own prison. Hell is what happens when we are left to ourselves. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Proverbs 14:12)

The life of Christ in us is the death of our old self, our selfishness, our worldliness. We experience an identity crisis. We feel dry and deprived. Torn and confused. Opposed and broken. Exposed. Helpless. Desperate. Though it feels like death, what we feel and what is real are opposites. Dying is the only way we can learn how to live.

The life of Christ in us is not merely death, but birth. The breath of our new self, of selflessness, of godliness. We are learning a new language, a new way to think, a new way to exist. This great reversal is making the opposites natural. We will count it wisdom when we once thought it foolish to let God define and provide what is good. It will be habit to serve, to seek to honor and not to be honored, to put others first. It will be natural to love people that nobody likes, to revolve around something other than ourselves, to find happiness in holiness. We find the new as we forsake the old.

We have not yet seen who we will be, who we are becoming from glory to glory. Pound by pound, our hearts are being broken for more than ourselves, aching for something else. Waking to greater purpose, higher delight, deeper insight. We’ve glimpsed a glory more valuable than our own, a beauty better than our reflection, a Being most worthy of our affection. We’ve touched a place far greater than our castle in the sand, a kingdom that will forever stand.

We’ve acknowledged truth too wonderful to comprehend, that we could be part of heaven. We were not made to be the world, but to be the church. And like the world it exists as much inside of us as it does outside of us. The church is you and me. A body with hands and feet. A language that we can speak. A country where we are free. An eternal family.

We are not merely existing anymore. We have found something worth living for. As we go from dreaming to being, we find reality to exceed our hopes and dreams. We find God as deep and real as our needs implied. We realize like C. S. Lewis that we’ve been far too easily pleased. That our happiest moments are when we forget our old selves and get lost in everything else. Things more precious. Things more glorious. Jesus. A new world. A new culture. A new people. A new home, and not just a hotel room.

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Resolved

Jonathan Edwards was born on October 5, 1703. By the time he was 20, he had written 70 life resolutions, which he would read through once a week. You can read all 70 of his resolutions here. I’m just posting the ones that inspire me the most.

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722-1723)

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

4. Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

10. Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.

14. Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

21. Resolved, never to do anything, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think any way the more meanly of him.

24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.

25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.

32. Resolved, to be strictly and firmly faithful to my trust, that that in Prov. 20:6, “A faithful man who can find?” may not be partly fulfilled in me.

33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it.

43. Resolved, never henceforward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s…

54. Whenever I hear anything spoken in conversation of any person, if I think it would be praiseworthy in me, Resolved to endeavor to imitate it.

56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and let it be just as providence orders it, I will as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin.

58. Resolved, not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and benignity.

59. Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly; yea, at such times, to manifest good nature, though I think that in other respects it would be disadvantageous, and so as would be imprudent at other times.

60. Resolved, whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of order, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within, or the least irregularity without, I will then subject myself to the strictest examination.

63. On the supposition, that there never was to be but one individual in the world, at any one time, who was properly a complete Christian, in all respects of a right stamp, having Christianity always shining in its true luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever part and under whatever character viewed: Resolved, to act just as I would do, if I strove with all my might to be that one, who should live in my time.

65. Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this all my life long, with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance…

67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.

68. Resolved, to confess frankly to myself all that which I find in myself, either infirmity or sin; and, if it be what concerns religion, also to confess the whole case to God, and implore needed help.

69. Resolved, always to do that, which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.

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Sometimes the sins people commit against us are easy to forgive, and sometimes they affect our entire lives. The surprising thing is that the sins that hurt us the most aren’t always intentional. Some people have hurt you because they weren’t thinking, and some people have hurt you because they were. When people hurt you without thinking, it seems unjust to call it accidental. It is not accidental so much as consequential. Your pain is the consequence of them thinking of themselves more than you.

Intentional and “accidental” sins can look the same. A 5-year-old can take the last cookie on a plate to intentionally steal it from his little brother, or he could only be thinking of himself when he takes it and his little brother would be hurt accidentally, as a consequence. Either way, the older brother sins – the first way by stealing the cookie on purpose, and the second way by putting himself before his little brother. Either way, his little brother experiences the same pain. One sin is direct, and the other is indirect.

Before confronting someone who’s hurt you, it helps to figure out why they hurt you. Was it because of you? Or was it because of them? Was it purposefully against you? Or was it a consequence of how they naturally are? Deciphering between the two doesn’t make the sin better or worse, but it will help you not to take it so personally, and to approach them in the right way.

Regardless of the kind of sin committed against us, we know we’ve been called to forgive like we’ve been forgiven. It goes without saying that our greatest example is Jesus, but the next person I think of is Joseph. His older brothers intended in their hearts to murder him, and decided it was safer to sell him into slavery. They despised him, so they disposed of him. Their sin against him affected Joseph’s entire life, but his perspective is incredible, and deeply humbling.

When Joseph was at his brothers’ mercy, they showed him no compassion. “We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen,” they said among themselves (Gen. 42:21). But when Joseph’s opportunity came to repay them, he blessed them. He even tried to encourage them, “But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives” (Gen. 45:5).

If Joseph couldn’t credit his brothers with the outcome of his life, who do we have to blame for the outcome of ours? It was God. Who has built us up and who has broken us down? It was God. Who has exalted us and who has humbled us? It was God. Names and faces come to mind when we consider the ones who have affected our lives for the better and for the worse, but at the end of the day… it was God.

Close your eyes and picture the face of the one you’d most blame for your bad outcome… imagine looking at them through the eyes of Joseph, through the eyes of Jesus, and saying through your tears of compassion, “But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourself for (whatever you did). It was God. You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. (Gen. 50:20)”

Now imagine Jesus looking at you through his own tears of compassion as your sin nails him to the cross, comforting you, “But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourself for what you’ve done. It was God. You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” That’s our motivation for compassion. And over all, God is sovereign.

God, even in the meantime when we can’t see the good you have intended in the midst of the offense, help us have Joseph’s perspective so we can stop blaming people (including ourselves) for the mess we’re in and start praising you for all the good you’ve done, and plan to do. Our lives are in your hands, not in the hands of men. Forgive us for not trusting your plan…

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Blooming in winter

This morning I was walking through the rain to get to my car when I noticed flowers in bloom. Their petals looked like arms open wide in the midst of the grey, rainy day. I was inspired by something so simply beautiful. I want to bloom in the rain. No matter the weather, wherever I’m planted, I want to lift my face to the sky and smile because I’m alive.

I’ve been reading Joseph’s story. His brothers sold him to Ishmaelite traders and he was purchased by an Egyptian officer named Potiphar, who happened to be captain of the guard for Pharaoh. Since the Lord was with Joseph, he “succeeded in everything he did as he served” (Gen. 39:2) and “the Lord began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake.” (v. 5) Because the Lord was with him, Joseph bloomed where he was planted.

Just when things were looking up, he was falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. Joseph sat in the prison after doing nothing wrong for years. But again, despite the season, he bloomed where he was planted. “The Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison.” (v. 21-22)

Through a series of fortunate events orchestrated by God, Pharaoh put Joseph “in charge of the entire land of Egypt” (41:41) and exclaimed, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the Spirit of God?” (v. 38)

When we are stuck in a lowly position, when we are suffering unjust treatment, and when we feel trapped in a circumstance, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6) Because the Lord is with us like he was with Joseph, and because we can be filled with his Spirit, we can bloom wherever we are planted.

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Love’s brutality

God’s love is tough. I’m being reminded that he is God, and I am not. I’m realizing my life is not my own at all. ‘For from him and through him and to him are all things.’ (Rom. 11:36) I make my plans. I take my steps. But he is redirecting my path. What I try to keep alive for myself, he keeps putting to death. Yet I find life in the aftermath.

I’m so fragile. A thousand things could fall apart today that I could never put back together again. The stars could fall. The earth could quake. My family could separate. My friends could walk away. My heart could break. But it’s ironic to think that among the things I can’t control, God’s love is the most threatening force of all.

God’s love is as strong as death and his jealousy is as fierce as the grave. It is a flame that many waters cannot quench and floods cannot drown. It is a consuming fire that burns away everything in its path. It is a mighty wind and a wild current. It weighs like gravity upon my soul and lifts me up like the wings of an eagle.

From the highest mountain to the deepest ocean, his love is. Beyond, before, behind, below, above, around, and within is his love. Greater than the sun, yet present in the atom. It can’t be outrun or undone. It can’t be fooled or controlled. His love is full of intention, precision, perfection. Searching my heart like a surgeon. Shocking me to find a pulse. Running through my veins like blood. Wrecking and redeeming the depths of my soul. There is no place he won’t invade to break me and make me whole.

However tough his love must be on me, he suffered love’s greatest brutality. I am broken, but he was crushed. I am disciplined, but he was punished. I am pruned, but he was abused. I taste only a drop from the cup that he drank to the bottom. I die to live, but he lived to die.

Whatever I must endure for the sake of love, it is only redemption. However I am pressed, it is only for the best. Love will not leave me with less. Love will not rest until I am blameless. Perfected. Wearing white as his spotless bride. Altogether lovely, fully alive.

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There are seasons of life when you feel comfortable with God. You daily walk with him and talk openly with him. You know him, and feel known by him. It’s such sweet communion when life is a garden. But then something happens. You pick a rose and a thorn pierces your hand. You try to remove it, but it’s in too deep. You bleed. Things that were once pleasant now hurt just to touch. Once you’ve had enough you cry out to God. What hurts worse than the damage done is the feeling that you’re alone. Forgotten. Sure, God knows you exist, but is he really responsible for this? If he really knew what you were going through, wouldn’t he come to the rescue? You thought you knew him, but now you’re confused. He must be good and loving… you’re still convinced. Your blood can’t be pointless, yet it bleeds for what reason? A good explanation could at least mean consolation. God forbid that you ache day after day because of some cosmic accident. Or even because of your own mistake, leaving yourself to blame. But whatever the reason, God is mighty to save. But for whatever reason, you still feel the pain.

This morning I read the story of how God rescued Lot moments before he utterly destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Two angels literally pulled Lot, his wife, and his two daughters away from the city by hand. They were specifically warned not to stop or look back. While running, they must have smelled the sulfur and fire raining out of heaven and heard the screams of the people. Lot must have been shocked by God’s mercy in saving his family, and then in a moment his own wife looks back and turns to salt. In a moment, she was gone. There was no time to stop and no chance to say goodbye. She was the rose he picked without expecting the thorn.

Lot must have been torn between the God who just took his wife, and the God who just saved his life. How could they be one in the same? How could he do both on the same day? It reminds me of what C. S. Lewis said, that God is good, but that doesn’t mean he’s safe.

Though God is not conflicted in character and never neglects one attribute to practice another, there is tension between how we think he should act and how he does act. We know who he is, we just don’t know how he is who he is. Just like it’s hard to see evil for what it is, it’s hard to see goodness. We see pieces. We develop our own definitions.

When we realize that God is not as predictable or comfortable as we once thought, we tend to get silent. But relationships need communication. And God is not afraid of our questions. He welcomes them. The best way to get to know someone is to ask them questions. Basic questions. Hard questions. Any questions. Asking questions keeps us honest, humble, and helps us to remember there’s a lot we still don’t know.

Proverbs 2
3 Cry out for insight,
and ask for understanding.
4 Search for them as you would for silver;
seek them like hidden treasures.
5 Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord,
and you will gain knowledge of God.
6 For the Lord grants wisdom!
From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Every season of confusion is a chance to get to know God in a way we never would have, had he done the predictable thing. Confusion means he is revealing himself as he is, and he is infinitely better than we can imagine.

But when he doesn’t seem better than we thought, when he seems worse because we’ve been hurt, remember Jesus’ words, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:6) When we are offended, or silenced by confusion, or overwhelmed with questions, it is better to come to God as we are than not to come at all. Just because he has been tough doesn’t mean he isn’t just as full of love and compassion. And just because he is not comfortable doesn’t mean he isn’t comforting. He is revealing himself as he is.

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