Boiling Pot

I lift up my eyes to the hills.  From where does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.  Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.  The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.  The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.  Psalm 121

I’m not what one would describe as “handy” in the kitchen.  I’m not even mediocre.  Cooking is just not my skill or interest.  Consistent with this reality, I have burned not one but at least two really nice pots in recent memory by letting the water evaporate out until only the pan itself was being cooked on the stove top.  Because this probably isn’t common experience, let me describe the smell that comes from “burning pan”…toxic (because it most certainly is emitting carcinogens into the air), oxygen eliminating and an odor that magically penetrates everything it reaches within our home.  Needless to say, the pot itself is then a goner because it can’t be used again, and certainly not without contaminating whatever food it would touch.  This image of a burning pot, one that needs water but is in constant danger of having it all evaporate, seems to best articulate the human heart’s need for Living Water and danger of becoming toxic to others without it.

Here are the things that evaporate my heart’s pot of water: my own sin as manifested in my words, actions, thoughts and attitudes, the well earned judgment of others for those sinful responses, the unearned judgments of others based on their own hearts’ sin, and of course, and then the additional laws (suggestions, lessons, activities, disciplines, demands, etc.) that are given or thrown at me like a chemistry set to make my own water out of hydrogen and oxygen.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”  Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:10-14

Here is what I need to be poured into my pot to keep it from burning and becoming toxic:  Living Water, the person and work of Jesus replacing my condemnable words, actions, thoughts and attitudes with His righteous ones, the power of the Holy Spirit producing talents and fruit in me to bring life to those around me, and the control of God over all things which trumps any other power, ruler, actor or player in all of life.  I need my eyes lifted to the hills to see God from whom my help comes!

Flattery, personal compliments, vacations, a delicious cup of coffee, nights out, concerts, fine dining, a good bottle of wine, a good book, time off or a good laugh might provide a cool breeze for my burning pot, but they do not provide Living Water which keeps it from burning.  When the water has evaporated, the law of righteousness does not provide the righteousness needed to keep me from becoming toxic fumes to my surroundings, fit only for being thrown out.  I need the only One who can keep me alive to pour Himself into me.

What I don’t need is for someone to tell me, “Oh no, you’re not so bad!” but what I do need is to be told, “You’re badness is no match at all for His goodness!”  In other words, the power of the gospel isn’t that I’m not as bad off as I think but rather that I am worse than I realize and God’s hand of redemption, restoration, reconciliation, healing, and regeneration are more powerful than my destructive nature.  His light is brighter than my darkness.

He is my keeper, not me.  I can’t keep myself from evil nor evil’s huge impact on me, but He keeps me from evil…not exhaustively, but ultimately.  The person and work of Jesus make it so I’m not left with only flattery or denial in the face of my sin and the hurtful realities of a broken world.  Because my stability, reputation and hope are all secured in His person and work, I can name and look at the wounding or otherwise shameful realities as they no longer have the final word, the final definition nor the final draft.  He has the final the good word, the final judgment and the final edition of this story and all the sub-stories being told.  Likewise, the health and well being of the lives around mine are not dependent upon my perfect health, perfect perspective or goodness (or there would be no hope at all!) but fully upon His perfect health, well being and ability to bring abundant life as my best days never make me capable of truly doing.

So then I have to ask, how do I offer Living Water to others whose pots are in danger of becoming toxic from the heat?  Do I instead merely offer them strategies for rest, vapid compliments or even worse, new laws to follow as I pass along that confounded chemistry set?  Do I expect that the weary and dehydrated  should get outside and dig their own well?  I think I do all these things and rarely offer what is needed most: the hope and certainty that the One who began His good work will carry it on to completion, no matter how His creation tries to thwart Him, He can’t be overpowered.  This is such good news, especially when He gives me glimpses of the wickedness I am capable or of the ignorant ways I can bring about destruction.  He helps me to understand how empty I am as a pot and how dangerous the condition is and then He assures me that He will pour His Living Water into me, never having to throw out this pot.  Hallelujah what a savior, hallelujah what a Lord!

I have set the Lord always before me;  because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;  my flesh also dwells secure.  Psalm 16:8-9

The Sanctification of Depression, Discouragement and Defeat

When I think about what it might have felt like to be Jesus on the way to the cross and up on it, though of course only in part, it is so different than the way I think about suffering and righteousness and grace and sanctification.  God’s order is always suffering then glory, flooding then re-creation, judgement then restoration.  I don’t like training.  I don’t like working the process to get to a desired result.  I just want the end product.  Even God had to go through the process of completing the full requirements of holiness and judgment on our behalf to bring about His new creation.  All the hours standing in “court”, with people debating His merits and throwing out their accusations and condemnation of Him, must have felt long and hurtful and disappointing and emotionally heartbreaking and physically depleting.  Then the physical abuse, which was cruel and unjust, would have pushed a sinful person like me to curse them back or burn internally while stuffing it.  The nails through flesh, tendons and bones were in no possible way tolerable, or “fine”.  The hours and hours of enduring this assault from all sides would break anyone down, and the weird silence and darkness of hanging up on that cross would be so unbearably isolating and alienating that mental illness would be my only remaining coping mechanism…just to shut it down altogether because I would have no framework or strength for processing any of that.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2:22-24

I become like a cornered stray dog in the face of opposition, conflict and suffering of many kinds.   I begin to snarl, chomp my teeth and am even willing to inflict pain on those around me in defense of my own life and well being.  He committed no sin and did not revile in return, nor threaten because He knew He wasn’t a stray dog but a Beloved Son.  He entrusted Himself to His Father.  Only Jesus was totally righteous and without sin and His response to suffering was part of that proof.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  James 1:2-5

If wisdom is Jesus, the person and work of Jesus, then it is suffering which most clearly exposes how much I am still lacking of His transformation in me.  It is also suffering which, like a map, helps to see how far I’ve come and where I am headed.  Suffering eliminates any false notion I may have of independent righteousness or holiness even as it shows, like a blood test looking for iron levels, how much “iron” I need to add to my diet.  These trials of many kinds aren’t  designed to convince me I have outgrown my need for Jesus and the change that only He can effect but rather are the very salt that makes me realize how dehydrated I am and how desperately I need His Living water.  These trials of many kinds are also what grow my faith as they press out my wrong notions about who God is and how He works, press out my wrong assumptions about who I am and why I exist, and replace them with the Truth, the Life and the Way.  Christlikeness isn’t proven by how righteously I handle the assaults, disappointments and derailments in my days but is actually produced through them.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  1 Peter 4:12-13

The thing is, I am surprised, and sadly, I think those around me are also, when fiery trials come because they rarely look “fiery” but are often more like stepping on toes…the yell omitted by the one whose toes were smushed makes no sense to the rest of the room whose eyes didn’t see the cause.  And the yell often feels a little like overreacting because, come on, nothing was broken or really even bruised.  I think this is why depression is hard to take or witness because it is the product of a deeper pressing, an interior stepping on toes, a hidden assault on the heart’s most honest affections and allegiances.  (This is an oversimplification of a complex issue, but true as one aspect.)  When my sinful response to difficult circumstances is evident to others, I feel like something strange is happening, and yet the Bible does not view it this way at all.  The story of redemption tells me over and over that my sin is not strange but the very reason the Seed was promised at the beginning of the story and as the culmination of it, the beginning and end of my creation.

But what if I could trust His process more, be less surprised and see it as less strange when my sin is exposed, my lack of faith brought to the surface and my deep need for Jesus actually revealed?  What if I could fail to be complete, perfect and lacking nothing (Jesus) and not be condemned by that reality but be hopeful that even as my need is made evident to all, so will His glory be revealed at the end of this process?  What if rather than defeated, my failure could actually force my roots deeper into Him to be hydrated by His Living Water?  What if, like Jesus, I could sit through hours and hours of assaults and accusations, believing that through His death (and mine), eternal, righteous, free and complete life will be found?  Oh might I rejoice, not as one in denial of the pain, drudgery or loss nor shocked or defeated by my sinful responses, but because this too is producing life, even through death.  Where I lack Jesus, I may ask for more of Him in me, and God will give generously without finding fault.  He is just…and the One who justifies.  Love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my life, my all.

Dignity

Not for the first time, in our neighborhood yesterday my children witnessed the handcuffing and arrest of a man.  It was a weird sight for me, more so than for my kiddos.  For them, there are good guys and bad guys and if he was getting arrested, he must have robbed someone or something.  What I saw was a black man getting down on his knees, willingly putting his hands behind his back, before the police officer walked toward him with her handcuffs.  My heart just sank.  He could be a total jerk, a conniver, an opportunist, irrational and angry, entitled, dangerous or even simply a real parasite to his friends and family.  But this arrest was part of his story line and seemed as part of his expectation of the world and how it works.  Cars kept streaming past, just as ours did, none of our appointments or plans being in the least bit altered by this event on the side of the road.  We don’t know this man, will never know him, and can slip him into the category of the stereotypical black man getting arrested for what we assume is probably another bad decision.  And we go on.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  Gen. 1:26-27

That man was made in the image and likeness of God, to rule over the fish, birds and all creatures.  God does not minimize him into a caricature, dismiss him because he may or may not be a jerk.  God sees him.  God knows him.  And, God loves him.  This is not mere bleeding heart drivel, this is crucial for my own relationship with God.  Because if God does not see, know and love this man, what makes me so confident that He sees, knows and loves me?  The only thing that could decieve me into believing I am more easily seen, known and loved is a lack of understanding of the truth about who I am apart from the righteousness of Jesus.  That I am not the kind of person one sees being arrested on the side of the road, is that what elevates my intimacy with God?  And which “kind of person” might that be?  And which “kind of person” do I then presume to be?  I have forgotten that the line which separates “good guys and bad guys” runs right through my very own heart.  When I strip this man, or the little anonymous girl with beaded hair walking behind a grown up to the bus stop, of dignity, I am stripping the truth about my own dignity away as well.  And I do…strip dignity that is.

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,”  have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  James 2:1-4

I strip dignity because just like Adam and Eve, I mistake the source of my dignity as something intrinsic to my own self rather than purely and wholly originating from the One I was made to reflect.  I am a judge with evil thoughts.  And “evil thoughts”, rather than being something only had by someone with long bony fingers in a dark cave, are the very thoughts encouraged by the serpent that life is about my own exaltation and God’s ineptitude or even His untrustworthy selfishness.  I need the favor of the man wearing the gold ring and fine clothes when I fail to rest in the favor of the ruler over all creation.  People, then, become utilitarian, only as valuable as what I can get from them in a material or political manner.  They have no other dignity, gold bejeweled or not, than what I can get from them.  I, in turn, have no greater dignity than my utilitarian function to others.  And the dehumanizing process is moving rapidly toward the ultimate goal of the serpent, to seek and destroy God’s image.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.  For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So death is at work in us, but life in you.  2 Cor. 4:7-12

Left to myself, I would be like one under hypnosis, absolutely powerless to resist my instincts of  favoritism and misplaced valuation of people.  But just as death could not hold Jesus down, nor can God’s enemy destroy His image.  That is my hope, both for my own dignity and that of others.  Oh that I may be able to cherish the man in hand cuffs as much as I hope to be honored.  That the life of Jesus may be manifested in my body and that I may be given eyes to see the life of Jesus at work in the story of those I pass along the side of the road.

Anger, Control and Desire

Its been apparent to me that I have an anger problem since I became a mother.  But, I should have been more clued in as a child who loved to slam doors for the exclamation mark it provided at the end of a “row” with my parents.  Two advances were made in my thinking about anger this week, no conclusions yet or sudden total purification in my heart on this issue, but worth processing here, now.

God is credited with anger periodically throughout the Bible (“the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses” Ex. 4:14 and “anger of the Lord blazed hotly” Num. 11:10 as two of many examples) which indicates that anger in and of itself is not evil or sin.  A podcast/sermon of Tim Keller’s that I listened to this week actually highlighted God’s slow anger and pointed out that the goodness of anger is that it is actually a product of love.  He used the helpful rhyming comparisons of “slow anger” vs. “no anger” vs. “blow anger”, which we might think of as anger that blows up out of control.

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Ex. 34:6-7

Tim Keller pointed out that anger seeks decimate anything which threatens that which is loved most.  The mama bear instinct is not wickedness but appropriate protection of the baby cub from any who would seek to do that bear harm.  So, Keller went on to say, disordered anger simply flows from disordered love.  It forced me to begin thinking about what makes me anger, and asking the question, “What am I defending with a willingness to decimate others, even those I love, to protect?”

Then my friend Meredith, who might be one of the best counselors in the world (no exaggeration), framed it a step further with the term “desires”.  Our desires are often God-given and very good in themselves.  I desire to have an orderly home, obedient children and to live in a community where my voice matters or to be a part of a church that works to bring about practical evidence of the restorative power of the person and work of Jesus in daily life.  These are good desires.  But ever so subtly, they slip into the process that Paul Tripp describes which ends in demand.  And it is when good things become “must haves” in my heart that anger is no longer a product of seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness but of seeking these thing for the peace, joy, contentment, satisfaction, strength, purpose, hope and so on that only ever will be found in Him alone.  Crystal, for example, allows for a beautiful table and makes drinking wine feel so much more festive and sparkly.  But hanging crystal around my neck, to draw from its energy and life, just took something desirable and turned it into an idol.  (For the record, I took one I was given in high school to dip in the ocean because this apparently purifies it.  Just so you never think I’m talking about “those crazies” who do such things, I’m almost always able to be counted among “their” number.)  When my desires become demands, my love has attached itself to the wrong thing and therefore my anger will be defending the wrong thing.

My issue, therefore, really isn’t primarily “control” (which is most often associated as the cause of anger) or even anger as a psychological problem in itself.  My problem is needing the wrong life source.  Isn’t this the recurring theme of everything I write?  Isn’t this the primary brokenness of my heart?  This is the destructive default mode initiated by the first Adam: to be my own god, to find life and wisdom and direction from the creation rather than the creator and to assume power from within that can only be received as a gift of grace from the Father through the Holy Spirit because of the person and work of Jesus.

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:2-4

Does the answer then, or the application, lie in managing my anger, working to be less controlling, or mustering up greater love for the right One?  No, I don’t think so.  I think like so much of walking this journey of faith, it begins with saying, “Whoa, I’m a helpless adulterer like Israel before me, constantly running after new idols and fighting anyone who threatens them.  The power of sin over me and to blind me is worse than I realized.  And God’s power over sin is greater than I can imagine.  He does give sight to the blind.  I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!”

Allowing Others to Sin Boldly

I tend to just want to fix people, as if it is up to my eyes to see their problems and my solutions to make them perfect. If I spend more than a few hours with just about anyone, I am going to discover something about that person I would like to change.  Maybe it is something trivial, like conversational interests and patterns or maybe it is more significant like addictions or abuses.  And biblically, we are called to live in community, to encourage one another and to confront one another in the face of sin.  Yet I take this mandate, if you want to call it that, and assume the responsibility and the ability of the Holy Spirit to effect change in others.  This also means I assume the accurate ways in which they need to change, and you know what they say about you when you ass-u-me.  And one more obvious truth about my focus on fixing people – it usually means I want to make them into my image more than anything else.  I get stuck on the externals and forget that permanent change only occurs at the heart level.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:3-7

As a kid at the doctor’s office, each time they would hit my knee with that little rubber triangular mallet to check my reflexes, I would be sure to give them an impressive 10.0 kick.  I wanted to pass with flying colors.  I don’t know why none of the nurses or doctors over the years laughed or in any way gave indication that my timing was absurdly off not to mention way over played.  But, presumably, they knew what they were looking for and my attempts at convincing them I had reflexes didn’t get in the way of that.  I think my efforts to prove I’m a follower of God are quite similar, honestly.  When the Holy Spirit reaches my heart, I don’t have to fake anything and if I think I can resist His work, I haven’t been hit precisely in the nerve with a rubber mallet.  The regeneration and renewal will come by the power and efforts of the Holy Spirit, not by my trying to force it or fake it.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Rom. 6:1-4 (but read the rest of the passage, always)

I don’t “sin boldly” or give up my high kicking attempts at righteous living because I reject the command to “be holy as He is holy”.  Rather, because I have been baptized into His death and resurrection, I see how my only means for being holy as He is holy is because He was holy in the flesh and credits that to me!  He will put to death my sinful inclinations so it won’t just be that I flagrantly continue on as if nothing had happened.  He will raise up His life in me so that the second Adam will reign in and through me just as the first Adam’s trespasses have been put on the cross and then buried.  Like Bryan Chapell’s wonderful corn cobb analogy, I have been plucked from the stalk so that the leaves and silk of my sinful nature are dying, cut off from their life source, but the corn inside (the life of Jesus) is full of life and being revealed with each slow removal of husk.  The husk that remains is only drying up even if it hasn’t been fully removed yet.

Woe to the world for temptations to sin!  For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!  And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.  Matt 18:7-9

It isn’t that the Christian is invited to take sin less seriously, but to finally take it extremely more seriously.  Before Jesus, my only choice was to minimize the grievousness of my offenses, blame them on misinterpretation or just someone or something outside of myself or simply deny them altogether.  Because He has taken every breath, hair and nano-second of my sin upon Himself, I can now face it honestly.  I can now see that the Law isn’t something that with a bit more effort and energy I can accomplish.  I can finally admit that there is no possible way I can meet it’s demands.  I don’t sin boldly as if shooting God the bird, I sin boldly simply in admitting that even my best efforts at imitation are but filthy rags and that apart from Him I can produce no other.

The person and work of Jesus on behalf therefore silences my judgments of others.  As long as I assume that his or her or their “bad choices” are simply due to ignorance, weak wills or wimsy, I am also assuming that their most fundamental need for change is education, strengthening resolve or intentionality.  When I begin to believe that they are helpless to change or act in any way differently from their unhealthy, destructive, and self-serving ways apart from the disruption of the Holy Spirit, I can love them with the mercy and kindness I have been shown in the person and work of Jesus.  I begin to love as one who shares their same position rather than one whom they ought to emulate.  Do I speak up about visible immorality, infidelity or illegal behaviors?  Sure.  But now I remove from my shoulders the anxiety that change is in my hands or even in theirs.  His rescue of me or my beloved friends and family isn’t waiting upon me to say just the right thing or come in with the rubber mallet.  It isn’t about endorsing sin or ignoring it.  The person and work of Jesus finally allows me to see sin for the Goliath that it is, impossible to conquer apart from faith, and not faith as something I muster up in myself, but faith that HE is faithful and He will do it.  Now, instead of coming is as the fixer, I am compelled to pray without ceasing and look to Him for the change we all need as He determines.

For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  2 Cor. 4:11-18