Breaking In

We had our first break in on Friday and it was as close to a non-event as that kind of thing could be…at least externally.  Nothing was actually taken and it was just the exterior door to our basement/crawl space from which the would-be thieves removed the lock from the door frame.  I was shaken and jolted into remembering exactly where it is that I now live…because no other neighborhood in America ever has break ins?  Ha ha, no, but remembering that my yard isn’t always considered my own exclusive domain by crack heads and curiosity seekers.  I let my neighbors know and they were all disturbed that it happened, except for the neighbors just behind my house.  


On the other side of our back fence is an alley across which sit a huge yellow “house” and a section 8 rental.  The large yellow structure has identified itself publicly as a barber shop in the past, but is apparently also a car repair lot and I’ve heard it is also a recording studio.  It is some and none of the above.  “Pharmaceutical sales” is the best guess of my neighbors…and nobody thinks they are trading the FDA approved kind.  So, I of course made a visit over to see them to formally introduce myself, since I do try to wave from our back yard when I think I might catch their attention.  Not surprisingly, nobody there saw anything and many there apparently couldn’t see me standing right in front of them either.  The next morning, one of the guys who hangs out there and seems to like us sent word through another neighbor who considers herself our family, that they don’t want me around, they don’t like us being here and they think I’m way too friendly.  (Which, I’m assuming  means “too familiar” rather than too outgoing and nice.)  Nobody just goes up and talks to them like that, she told me.  Don’t interact with them, I mean it baby, you can’t trust any of them.  Ugh.


There are those who move boundary stones; they pasture flocks they have stolen.  They drive away the orphan’s donkey and take the widow’s ox in pledge.  They thrust the needy from the path and force all the poor of the land into hiding. Job 24:2-4


My friend Tucker came over to give us some landscaping ideas and made the point that trees always win, always.  You can’t grow grass or hope for other things to ever survive against trees.  Trees always win.  In this neighborhood, it seems that fear always wins.  Listen to what Gary Haugen, the president of International Justice Mission, has said.  “The oppressor knows that the primary reason we do nothing is because we have lost any hope of making a difference.” (Good News About Injustice, p67)  There is an understandable resignation around here, and apparently the quicker we learn to submit to it, the better off we will be.


I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33


Over and over, the Bible reminds me that not only should I not be so shocked by the power and prevalence of evil, but I can expect to see it in a world which actually needs a Redeemer.  And a Redeemer we have!  He has come and has conquered.  He has torn down the dividing wall of hostility between us and our Creator and therefore between us and each other.  He is with us always, even until the very end of the age.  Whom then should I fear?


His Kingdom is breaking in, first and foremost to my very own heart.  His Lordship gets to replace the Lordship of both the well intentioned friends and the potentially hostile bullies, both who have a game plan they’d like me to follow.  I am to have no other gods before Him, even the much advocated god called “common sense”.  Does this mean I leave my children out in the yard alone for hours?  Do I set my silver on the front porch when I head out to run errands?  Of course not, and exactly how would those actions point to the person and work of Jesus anyway?  He does not call His children to take heart and to have courage for courage’s sake or a happy heart, but when it is to stand or walk or act or speak in pursuit of the peace and power and light and truth of the Gospel, the person and work of Jesus.


God’s Lordship is starting to break through and into my own stubborn, self-serving and self-reliant heart.  And thankfully, unlike whoever attempted to break in our house, the alarm sirens of my strong will and resistance will never deter His transforming work there.  He had to bring this sinner to a place where I can see more clearly my preference for self-preservation over Gospel advancement, my demand to be served rather than to serve and my trust in man’s words more than His Word.  He comes in and removes these idols from my white knuckled grip and replaces them with nothing less than Himself!  This is my Father’s world, and oh how I hope I will one day live more fully and freely in that reality.


Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matt. 28:16-20



Need Less, Love More

That is the name of my friend Melissa’s blog, or at least it is her url address, and I love it.  What she is referencing is the reality that the less we need people (to fill up our tanks, to make us feel valued, to satisfy our sense of significance and worth, to validate our existence, to approve of our every moment, etc.) the more we can love them unconditionally.  When I back off from a relationship with a neighbor, for example, because the person doesn’t seem to like me or see things my way or even want me around, that reason for withdrawal is a good indication that my pursuit of them was more self-serving than I may have consciously intended.  When I withhold my affections or attention or participation from a person or group because of an offense or lack of desired reception and appreciation of me and my contribution, it may be a good opportunity to examine my motives for extending affection, attention and participation in the first place.

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,  keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21

If I were to be kept in God’s love, His perfect, satisfying, limitless love, would I be so needy of the building up from others?  What if my faith built me up in such a way that my confidence became secure, not in my doing or thinking everything perfectly and having others affirm I was doing so, but because I fully trusted and rested in His judgments more than the assessments of others?  How much more courageously and generously would I begin to pour out my heart to others (not in the sense of sharing my feelings, but offering my love and life blood) if my source of strength, motivation and life transferred from their responses to the completed work of Jesus and my secure relationship with Him?

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Romans 12:10-11

I lose my zeal way too easily and most often it is because my efforts feel pointless and fruitless.  I am looking to those I am called to serve to serve me back, in some way, which rarely happens.  (I want raving applause for finally getting the laundry put away or cleaning the kitchen or tackling some other project that I didn’t really want to do, for example.  I want recognition for acts I see as heroic sacrifice and costly to my well being.  And so on.)  But if I am serving the Lord rather than His creation, my zeal comes from His victory, His success, His certain ultimate dominion and elimination of all strife and forms of suffering.  His efforts will always bear fruit and I can trust in that, whether or not I see the fruit directly from the jobs He gives me to do in the process.

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:2-3

How might I love others better if my eyes were fixed on Jesus rather than the human responses in front of me?  (Am I advocating that obliviously interact with one another as if to dehumanize the people around us?  I hope not.  But rather, minimizing how much larger the objects of our service can become than the One whom we truly serve.)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  John 13:34

“Yes!”, I say with Peter, “I will not just love with the humility of You, Jesus, but I will lay down my life for You!”  And like He said to Peter, Jesus reminds me that not only will my zealousness fade at the first hint of crowd disapproval, but I will quickly go so far as to deny Jesus, even if only in my own heart.  Surely Jesus wouldn’t have a purpose in my being rejected, ridiculed, or even ignored completely, would He?

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. John 1:10-11
And yet He came anyway, served steadily, loved compassionately, healed tenderly, obeyed faithfully, taught masterfully, forgave mercifully, died excruciatingly and was raised victoriously.  I cannot love like this because I need to be recognized and received.  But He gives me more grace!  He continues to love me out of His own resources rather than for anything I have to offer to Him and slowly transforms my heart to do the same for others.  He has not commanded what He has not already fulfilled.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thess. 5:23-24

Delayed

As we began that wonderful drive across the marshes to get onto Tybee Island Saturday, I wondered why I had given us a couple less hours there for the sake of house work at home.  Why did I think it was so important to leave with the beds made, the kitchen cleaned, the bathrooms tidy and in general spend time working towards a best housekeeping award (which will never be given to our place, by the way) when the beauty, peace, rest, and life of the beach was there waiting for us?  As I began a solitary run on the beach, I actually got faster and my legs and lungs started feeling stronger the further along I got.  The sunshine, the sound and beauty of the waves, the blue sky and the wide open beach were tangible reminders of God’s goodness, consistency, reliability, beauty, harmony and undefeatable shalom.  So why was getting to that place not front and foremost in my thoughts and heart, which were instead convinced that laundry and the way my house looked in our absence were a higher priority?

But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.  It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.  “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”  Mark 13:32-37

This passage just sounds threatening and like it might be possible to miss Jesus’ return.  I’m pretty sure, unlike some creative writing in the 90’s, God’s return and care of His children won’t include His throwing His arms in the air and saying something like, “Well, I hoped they’d be part of this, but I can’t always get what I want.”  What struck me at the beach was that even though it is my favorite place, I had forgotten just how life giving and awesome it is so that the demand for my time seemed reasonably torn between my to do list around our house and my time at the beach.  Once I arrived there, I realized how absolutely unreasonable that sense of division actually was.  Standing there on the water’s edge, sand beneath my feet, sun warming my skin and huge smile spreading uncontrollably from ear to ear, the idea that our beds were made back in Atlanta just made no difference in the world.  I think that may be more what God is reiterating.  That which is perishing to easily captures my attention rather than the One who will never rust, spoil or fade.
 
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  Matt. 11:28-29
 
Rest for my soul was experienced in small part at the beach, but I tried to grab for it through a clean house.  The clean house never gets clean enough to really give my soul rest.  I do not come to Jesus for rest, for life, for strength, for counseling, for healing, for correction, for hope, for joy, for peace, etc. but am too easily pulled to the external things around me instead, as if they are equal competitors.  Need I even say, they are not.
 

Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. 
Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. 
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples. 
Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor. 
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 
Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.  Is. 55:1-7

“Out of sight, out of mind” and “If you can’t be with the One you love, love the one you’re with” should not describe my reliance upon my creator, redeemer, Father and friend.  Would I tarry in seeking Him if I knew Who I was missing?  Would I procrastinate by sucking on sandy, rusty canteens if I really believed Living Water was readily available?  Would I self soothe with unsatisfying, energy sucking sugary, salty snacks if I realized the Bread of Life had already been broken for me to come and eat?
 
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. John 5:39-40
 
How I look forward to the day when the promises that my bed makes in the early morning is less persuasive to my heart than the promises He has already made and fulfilled and continuing to work out in me.  How I look forward to the day when the allure of external, environment peace is less compelling than the Prince of Peace Himself.  How I look forward to the day when I can honestly sing with integrity “All of You is more than enough for all of me.”  Let it be so soon, by His grace and mercy.

Winning

He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Rev. 3:21-22

I realize that God’s throne is far more than simply “the victor’s throne”, but there is a bit of that in there, isn’t there?  The One who sits enthroned over all the nations, who sets up kings and deposes them, who is the beginning and end of all things is the One to whom the throne belongs.  He “wins the day”, His will is done over every other will, even my stubborn resistant one, and His ways win out over every subversive opponent.  God’s glory, goodness, purity, love, grace, justice, peace and exhaustive redemptive plan wins and defeats death, decay, division and dissent.  Remarkably, beginning in Genesis 3, God counts us as one of His team in the victory, even when we deliberately identify ourselves with the opponent, as Adam and Eve did.  Amazing love.

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Rev. 2:9-10

My problem, as I mentioned to some friends last night, is that I really like winning too much.  I expect to win and my heart demands to win, even though statistically and practically “you can’t win ’em all”.  In elementary school P.E., have mercy on us all if Devin Wylie and I didn’t get put on the same team.  We were the most competitive people in the class and would remain red faced and determined to defend our dominant position against one another for an extended time after P.E. if one of our teams had beaten the other.  I am different now only in form but not in practice.  When my dog won’t obey or my children aren’t conforming to my image or my neighbor has a different style of relational engagement, I leave red faced(even if just in my chest) and raging(even if just in my heart) for an extended period of time “after class”.  I need to win (not just the game, but the discussion, the prize for coolness or for style choices, the way things are done around the house, and any number of other scenarios where two opposing ideas/methods/styles/perspectives encounter and confront one another).

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  Mark 8:34-35

My need to win, to have my way, is indicative of the fact that I am far more committed to saving my life, preserving my life, fortifying my person than I am to Jesus and His very good news.  I am so fiercely protective of and committed to my will being done and my image being glorified that I lose sight of the reality of His will being not simply better, not just truer, but the only will that will be done and that will conquer all, including me.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 
James 4:1-3

Winning has everything to do with my own pleasure.  My need to “win” my will in each situation shifts my desire into a demand which then becomes more important than God and the person and work of Jesus in my heart and the lives of others.  And practically, no matter what current trends are in elementary school field days, in order for me to win, the other person must lose.  It is pretty hard to love as Jesus loves while simultaneously needing the person I am supposedly loving to lose.  Or put a different way, as long as my heart requires being in the superior position, my “love” is at best condescending and self-serving and at worst demeaning and disingenuine.

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 1 Cor. 9:19

What if my aim for winning were to become focused on the hearts of others toward Jesus?  What if the victory I began to crave was the one already secured by Jesus?  What if He changes my heart in such a way that I could begin to genuinely embrace losing all of myself for the sake of the gospel’s victory in the people and in the world around me?  The narrative of redemption is through suffering to glory without a shortcut.  The restoration process which moves us from seeing in a mirror dimly to face to face perfect vision requires passage through the desert to the promised land, through silence to celebration, through darkness to light and through death to life.  Losing all to win even more is the way of the cross and the life of Jesus into which we are invited.  It is grace that He carries me through this process of losing even when I don’t want to go.  It is grace that He will complete the good work that He has begun.  It is grace that has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead home.
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  John 19:30

Boast

On my first trip home from college my freshman year, I got my first speeding ticket.  I had just gotten inside the city of Atlanta line on 75S, amidst very large trucks going very fast, and the combination of excitement to be home and the desire to get around these trucks came together at just the time the speed limit dropped.  When those blue lights came on, I was devastated.  I was shaking.  But darn it, I couldn’t cry like I heard so often worked for the people in all those stories of getting out of tickets.  So, when the officer came and went through his bit and could tell I was visibly upset and rattled, he kindly said, “Don’t worry about it, this happens to people everyday.”  To which I indignantly responded, “I am not people everyday!”


I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Gal. 2:20


At a Young Life camp in high school, I memorized this verse as a great summary of what it means to be a Christian.  Awesome, I thought.  Bring it!, I delighted.  Summarizing my  proper identity, these words capture who I am as well as who I am no longer.  In theory, that is.  The arrogance and pride expressed by my college freshman self is not in the past.  Even today, my heart fights vehemently not to be confused with “everyday people”.  I am not one of “those kind” of…(fill in the blank).


But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.  Phil. 3:7-9


So, like the concept in Galatians, this one I totally get as well…until I actually have to give up what once was to my gain.  Those little gains and losses come in all shapes and flavors, but here is an example of what I am thinking about:  When someone casually asks, “Where did you go to college?” and I say, “Vanderbilt”, I am often met with “AHohhh!”  (That was the best I could do in writing to convey the sound which is often made.)  What is basically communicated in that response is that whatever assumptions they may have had about me, now they are favorably impressed.  My stock value just went up, so to speak.  That same response is more true of my friends who went to Harvard.  They are clearly the superiors in the room once their alma mater is revealed.  When following Him means removing some of these types of personal credits (the car you drive, the outfits you wear, the bands you see in concert, the politics you identify with, the places you vacation, the decor of your home) in order to be found in Him alone, it shows me how little I really comprehend my bankrupt estate apart from Jesus and how little I really grasp the extravagant gift of His righteousness offered as my own credit.  The shifting tides of here and now status are so much more intoxicating than the promise of total identification with the God Man, Jesus!  (What is wrong with my heart!?!…oh yeah, sin.)


Now, we all know intellectually and theologically that educational pedigree is not the way God measures the value of His children, but it is the easiest example I can think of to demonstrate my heart’s agonizing over this major theme in the Gospel – I no longer live but He lives in me/my righteousness is in the person and work of Jesus alone/I become less so that He becomes more…and over and over it is reinforced.  The reason my high school enthusiasm for becoming less isn’t as easy as just being passionate for Jesus is because I really like that Ooooo and Ahhhhhhh response to my accomplishments, my associations and my relational contacts.  I deeply want people to know my stock value is high, that I have credibility which gives weight to my opinions, perspective and choices.  And, it isn’t always about the degree or the accomplishment itself, but the communication to the world that I know what they value and have been approved of by this or that organization, group or even individual that they find admirable.  Interestingly, the approval of the most admirable One, is omitted from my equation.


…not having a righteousness of my own…


This phrase alone may be the most challenging aspect of my faith.  I mean, I totally “get it” theologically, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be free of my need to be approved of by mankind.  My white knuckled clinging to worthless idols (Jonah 2:8), such as varied associations which increase my stock value with a fickle few, is an indication of my lack of grasp of God’s great love and worth as well as my inherited sinful demand to my own god.  But this is the very place where the person and work of Jesus is effecting change as no self-help program can.  Unlike the multiple church marquees Terrell and I passed yesterday which said things like, “If you are obedient, God will bless you” and “Don’t let go of God and He won’t let go of you”, my hope is not in a sudden surge of spiritual discipline to “Let go and let God.”  By God’s great mercy, I don’t “let” God do His job and fulfill His promised will.  He is faithful and He completes the good work that He has begun.  He is removing my idols like a parent who removes splinters from a child’s foot, even as the child protests the approach of the scary tweezers.


I don’t have to be a god in the eyes of others when I am convinced that role is already filled in such a marvelous way that there is nothing I can add or do to improve upon it.  As I surrender my need to be glorified in the eyes of others, I can become more interested in seeing His glory displayed in the lives of those very same “others”.  As I lay down my need for others to see me in a particular way, to distinguish me from all those “others”, perhaps the focus can begin to shift from being impressed with myself to being more intensely impressed with the person and work of Jesus.  I am being crucified with Christ, which is not a fun “campy” experience.  But it is bringing new life, His life in me, as no other title, position, degree or affiliation can.


Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Rom. 5:1-2