Shrinking

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.  So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.”  And, “But my righteous one will live by faith.  And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”

 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.  Hebrews 10:32-39

Often, when a new love is birthed, the greatness of that new experience minimizes any sense of shame or insecurity about the bold expressions of affection in that euphoric relationship.  The same can be said about being swept into a movement, whether political or social activism, as evidenced by passionate exhortations made on Facebook by people who may hardly speak in public.  The good and true aspect of these moments is that for their duration, they are bigger than the individual, interrupting self-focus just long enough to serve something greater or, at least, to step out from hiding behind the tree.  God is inviting us to live in that real focus on His Kingdom.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said,“why did you doubt?”  Matt. 14:28-31

At the sight of Jesus, Peter’s instinct was to climb out of a boat and walk on water.  WHAT!?  And then came the shrink back…the reality of the cost, the danger, the fear, his own limitations, his own weakness.  Maybe he realized his impulsiveness, not humongous faith, had urged him out of that boat.  Maybe he realized everyone was looking at him and he could never fool those who knew him best.  Only God knows the complexity of all that happened in those moments.

I, like Peter, have forgotten my first love.  I need to be reminded from Hebrews that it is “because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.  So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.”  My confidence is not in my personality, my strength, my balance, my perspective, my experience, my understanding, my buoyancy, my tough skin or soft heart, my correct theology, my anything.  My confidence is in the truth that His Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom, that His Kingdom will swallow up the old and make all things new and that any loss now is no loss, ultimately, in His economy.  I have lost confidence in this.  I have lost sight of this.  I have stopped believing it.  And I have been sinking, shrinking back, with little faith and great doubt.

Enduring great conflict and suffering turned my eyes from His Kingdom onto protecting my own.  Rather than turning the other cheek with joy, I hunkered down and went diving for cover, while chucking a few rocks back at my attackers.  Bitterness, sorrow and defeat followed.  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 8:35  Too easily and with disappointing speed, the wind and waves have drawn my attention from Him.

And here is the final truth, where the Good News must be just that, unless Jesus reaches His hand out and catches me, fishes me out, and places me back in His boat, I remain among those with whom God takes no pleasure because I cannot clench my jaws for more faith, I cannot will myself to the top of the water and I cannot give sight to my darkened eyes.  But because with His Son He is well pleased, and because I am hidden in Him and clothed in Him, the reward of HIS faithfulness is mine.  He is faithful to complete the Good work that He has begun.  He will do it.

Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens, you who have done great things.  Who is like you, God?
Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. Psalm 71:19-20

Silence is Golden?

The silence of God can be a very loud, overpowering reality, particularly if you are an extrovert, fed by active engagement in relationships like a fire is fed by lighter fluid.  In the silence, one feels more like the wood that is too green to actually burn, hoping the quick bright flame of the balls of newspaper will be be contagious, though they don’t turn out to be.  The truth about green wood, however, is that just like a green banana, it isn’t thrown out for being premature, it just has to be set aside to season properly before it is ready to be consumed.

From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  Matt. 27:45-46

Darkness covered the land.  It must have been still and silent or perhaps there were cries of mourning or of fear in that unexpected mid-day darkness.  Jesus, for the first and only time, was indeed utterly alone, isolated, disenfranchised, a sheep without a shepherd, an orphan, an alien, rejected, despised, cut off and discarded.  He felt it between bone and marrow.  He was sweating blood.

But the Father had not actually discarded Him just as He never forsake Adam, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Job nor any in the family of Israel nor any grafted/adopted into the line.  The darkness, the silence, the seeming absence was the necessary time of seasoning, of dough rising, of fine wine aging.  For Jesus alone, the weight of sin and punishment crushed the very life out of Him.  Because He bore the weight, we simply move through it, like the valley of the shadow of death.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.                               1 Cor. 13:11-12

Some birthing labor and some mother’s must endure more than 24 hours of intense contractions, searing pain and wearying waiting.  At the end, though, new life is birthed.  On the other side of the valley of the shadow of death is the house of the Lord.  Before the darkness of death and all its symptoms, I know God only in part, dimly, in shadows.  Some of what I believe is more about my own reflection and image than an accurate knowledge of His.  The air bubbles of my rising dough have to be pressed out so that I am left with full bread and not just hot air.  In the meantime, I cannot speed the seasoning of my wood, the ripening of the green banana nor the rising of the dough.  I have no choice but to trust that silence really is golden, or at least produces gold by burning off the contaminants and making it pure.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

The Tolkien quote that is often seen on bumper stickers affixed to Jeep Wranglers is profound.  One views “a wandering soul” as unfocused, undisciplined and without purpose.  Biblically, I think of the Israelites spending far more time in the desert than they had to simply because that is how God arranged it.

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Deut. 8:3-5

Edmund Clowney in his book, The Unfolding Mystery, commented on the desert wanderings of Israel observing that the Israelites did not realize that God’s purpose for leading them in what turned out to be a longer journey than required by a map, “was not rapid transportation.  It was education.”  In the desert, God wanted them to learn who He was and in response, who they were.  For the Master Teacher, it is not enough for His people to just have this information, it needs to become part of them.

I don’t tend to really learn something until I it becomes a necessity.  I was never a strong foreign language student in school, but I quickly grabbed hold of important phrases and expressions when immersed in settings where I needed the language to survive.  Until I see my urgent need, my motivation is not all that strong. And often it is in those times of dissonance, disorientation and disconnect that I feel that need.  It is then that I realize my former framework for understanding needs to be replaced or that the content of what I understand is anemic at best.  And this is what God reveals to me about my relationship with Him through my desert wandering.

This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence:  If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.  1 John 3:19-20

The Israelites felt utterly abandoned and lost.  They actually pined for the days of slavery in Egypt because at least there they knew their identity and had some predictability about life.  But it was in the desert that God showed them they had been seen and found and that though they were in no way inherently “choice”, they were chosen.

For forty days Noah floated on endless water, never spotting land or a place to anchor.  For forty years his descendants,  the Israelites, wandered in the desert without permanent residence.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,  where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.  He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. Luke 4:1-2

The first wilderness was wild but not alienating because it was where God dwelled with man in the Garden.  Even so, man turned inward to make meaning of existence and to take control of his surroundings.  Noah turned inward as documented immediately upon his exiting the boat onto dry land.  The Israelites have a well chronicled 40 years of making idols, storing up manna and looking to themselves more faithfully than God.  It was only in the One who each of these sons of God merely shadowed that the wilderness perfectly revealed a whole-hearted trust and dependence on God the Father, Maker, Sustainer and Ruler of all creation.  Because His testing produced a fuller realization of God’s dwelling with man, our desert wanderings are guaranteed to do so.

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.  Job 42:3-5

I think I have a grip on God, His ways and my role in His Body until I find myself drifting at sea or wandering in the desert.  But in His kindness, He sends me wandering to pull from my curled fingers the false images of Him to which I cling and the short-sighted hopes for myself in which I mistakenly trust.  He uses the desert wandering to convince my heart that it is not my grip on Him or anything else but rather His grip on me which guarantees that I am not lost.

 

Talitha Koum

What is it about William Wallace and his fight for Scotland that inspired me so when I first saw Braveheart and continues to energize me when brought to mind even today?  Perhaps its the same thing that makes the Tale of Despereaux or To Kill a Mockingbird so powerful.  The individual who willingly risks personal loss for a greater good, even if that good is not visible to the public opinion polls.  Those tales awaken in the reader (or viewer) a clarity of the Good, making it seem not as far out of reach as we convince ourselves it is.  It is the story of the person and work of Jesus, the ultimate hero, who took on death so that all may have life.

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  1 Peter 4:12-13

The order of suffering and then glory, never the latter without the former, is the order of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  There is no resurrection without the cross, and so there really is no life of Jesus in me without the prerequisite death of Adam in me.  William Wallace, Atticus and many others who give us little samples of the larger narrative of Jesus, stir up courage and willingness in us to face death because we see the life that follows those sacrifices.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Rom. 8:18

The problem for me is that I don’t honestly want to walk the hill to Golgotha or linger there for much time.  Present sufferings are so life sucking and feeling dead inside is, well, lifeless.  Feeling dead inside might be compared to feeling like a used ash tray, full of putrid, burned cigarette butt which is not just filthy and smelly in itself but toxic to those around it.  I don’t want to be toxic to others, or even slightly burdensome.  Dead weight is heavy.  Yet it seems, if I could apply my faith to even this, that dead weight is to be expected with death and death is required for resurrection.  AND, no dead person can resurrect herself or himself.  I want to be fighting for Scotland, so to speak, and instead I am lying in the tomb of the defeated.  My story isn’t the hero’s story but that of a desperate need for one.

He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him.  After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was.  He took her by the hand and said to her,“Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.  Mark 5:39-42

Yesterday morning, even beyond my virus ridden body, I was acutely aware of the death of my soul.  I felt the profound need for resurrection.  Yesterday, rather than resurrection, I was still in the darkness of Friday.  And I realized, that is ok.  He will come to my side when it is the right time and say, “Talitha koum!”   And the resurrected version of my heart will fight for Scotland (or better yet, God’s Kingdom) more gloriously and effectively than the one that climbed the hill to Golgotha and that currently lies in the darkness of the tomb.

Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  2 Cor. 1:9