Category Archives: old writings

Preparing

The following is something I wrote on January 29, 2007 at the start of my second semester in seminary.  It is precious to me for a couple of reasons – first, it reminds me that God provides in dry times, and second, because I look back on that time with a joy that comes from seeing many of those prayers and longings answered.  Praise God for being a loving and gracious Father to his children!

Lately I feel like I’ve been wandering in the desert like Moses and the children of Israel.  After the exodus from Egypt, God had the Israelites wander so that He could lead them and purify them, preparing them for the Promised Land.  This time in Israel’s history follows their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and the giving of the Ten Commandments.  Israel has seen God make good on His promises to rescue them, they’ve seen Him perform many miracles (the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea), and they’ve been given His commandments. Why, then, does Israel need time in the desert?  What is wrong with them? They’ve been given explicit instructions for how to live (Commandments and Mosaic law), and yet they can’t uphold those requirements.

I’ve been wandering, trying to follow God faithfully through a wilderness season in my life.  I’ve struggled with prayer despite spending a good deal of time in the Word.  I’ve felt disconnected from God.  Why?  I honestly don’t know.  I’ve seen the Lord rescue me from my sins, I’ve seen Him work miracles in my life… the very fact that I’m writing this is testament to His grace!  Had I not experienced God’s redeeming presence in my life, I would have no taste for Scripture, no desire for redemption, and my soul would be on the path of destruction.  So I have been redeemed, I’ve seen God at work, and He has certainly given me specific instructions on how to live (Scripture).  So why, then, has God given me this time in the wilderness?

To answer this, I want to look back into Israel’s history.  Deuteronomy chapter 1 shows that Israel refused to enter Canaan.  They grumbled and murmured; lacking faith all along, so God sent them back out into the desert for a while to prepare them for what He had in store for them.  And this was a special time for Israel to be alone and undistracted in devotion to the Lord.  They learned an immense amount through experience and life to a point where God had finally prepared them to take the land that was theirs through His promises.

I think that college and seminary are a lot like this for me.  God is preparing me for ministry and for the rest of my life through my classes, my church, and through my ministry with BYX.  Every day I’m learning something new and seeing old lessons in a new light.  Someday, when God blesses me with a church ministry, I will be ready by His grace… but I will also look back on these ‘wilderness’ times and see them as a blessing from God.  In the same way, I’m preparing for marriage and family life – leading a wife and children someday.  Each day it seems further and further away, but still intimidating.

One thing, though… I don’t want to be too quick to think that my ‘wilderness’ is only limited to my educational career.  To be sure, many folks’ wilderness far outlasts their education, and many folks’ education far outlasts their time in the wilderness.  But to take a step back and look at things for just a minute, I’d say that in this life we’re never out of the wilderness.  We were meant for more… we were built for Heaven, and we spend out earthly lives preparing for our time in Heaven.  This is not to negate any ministry or opportunity here on this planet… they’re all wonderful.  But I do think that we need to put things into eternal perspective.  This earth is a training ground for eternity.  We spend our 60, 70, 80 years here and learn things from God, following His lead… and then we’re finally taken Home when He is ready for us to be ready.

The biggest encouragement for me is this:  the time in the wilderness is finite.  The children of Israel did wander for a long time in the desert, but they did finally make it to the Promised Land, just as God had promised.  In the same way, I know that God has built me for marriage and a family so someday my longings for those relationships will be answered.  I also know that God has called me into ministry… so my time in the educational wilderness is finite as well.  Someday I will be in a church or some other ministry serving Him, but not until He is ready for me to.

Another thing that I take heart in is that time in the wilderness is special time with God.  I’ll never have another time in my life where I am single and have relatively few obligations that I didn’t choose for myself.  I can be somewhat selfish, I have complete freedom; I don’t have a family tying me down.  Israel’s time with God allowed Him to purify their hearts and lead them so intimately in a time period that is unique in Israel’s history.  There has never been a time like that wilderness journey for Israel, much like in my own life.

I think I heard it best from Mark Driscoll up in Seattle, Washington one Sunday when I was visiting my old college roommate Jake last semester.  He said that the closest we Christians will ever get to hell is here on earth.  By sharp contrast, the closest that non-Christians will ever get to Heaven is here on earth.  What, then, are we doing with our time?  Is it preparing us for Heaven, or are our resources only being wasted on the here and now… our proverbial hell?  Our time here is finite.  It will end.  Heaven will not, and hell won’t either.

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Acting

“Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
– Romans 12:2

I remember this time I took a theater class when I was in high school. I’m not really a theater-artsy kind of guy, so it was a challenge to get into character… I didn’t know how to act at all. I remember how frustrated I was with the whole ordeal. I had the right outfit with the right props and I had the lines memorized but my performance was still crap. Somewhere along the way I had missed something crucial to the performance process. So I stayed after class to talk with my teacher, and she gave me some great advice: I had to put myself in the mindset of the character… get to know the character I was playing and then mold my viewpoints to fit that person before my performance would be believable. If I didn’t make that change in my mind, my role would conform to my personality rather than come off the way it was meant to be played. She told me it wasn’t just about the props or the wardrobe, or even the lines… acting wasn’t about representing someone else’s character on stage, it was actually being that character, and that started on the inside.

So that memory got me thinking… aren’t we Christians like that? It seems as if we’ve got the lines memorized (“I’m good, how are you? How can I be praying for you?”), we have the right clothes for church and our Christian camp t-shirts for class, and we even have the coolest props around (iPods with sermons and acoustic praise music, worn-looking Bibles and trendy journals).

The problem is, the performance isn’t real unless we have the character of Christ on the inside. And if we appear to do everything right on the outside but inwardly we’re not living it out, Jesus calls us whitewashed tombs. Our role as Christians won’t resemble Christ, but will rather conform to our own fallen flesh. If we are trying to deal with sin but aren’t dwelling in the victory that we have in Jesus, then we’re trying to tackle a monumental spiritual problem with just our discipline, reliability, and faithfulness. That leaves us shorthanded and outmatched with no reinforcements… pretty much a strategic nightmare.

However, if the mind is renewed and if we are transformed in light of that, then we live in the purity that Christ purchased in His death on the cross as well as the victory that He accomplished at His resurrection. And when we base our lives (or ‘performance’ as it were) on our Lord Jesus, then He gets the glory and He saves the day. It then rests on His perfect will, not our imperfect one. Our outward character will begin resembling our renewed inward soul as the glorious grace of Christ moves from inside out.

What I’ve found in my short time on this planet is that God is the only one who can change hearts. I’ve tried it without Him, and it just flat doesn’t work.

Another thing that I’ve found… when God begins this renewing and molding process, we begin conforming to the image of Christ and start thinking like Him, walking like Him, talking like Him, and acting like Him. We start memorizing our lines (of Scripture), and we begin really playing our part in the Kingdom.

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Fig Trees and God’s Sovereignty

The following was written in August 2007…

Habakkuk 3:17-19
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.

God is sovereign even if He does not give us money, food, cars, a spouse, etc. Though we toil through life and experience hardship along with providence, God is still our hope and strength, for who have we in Heaven but Him (Psalm 73:25)? We must throw ourselves on His mercy and expect the Almighty, the One with the highest wisdom to bring about His glory and the best things for us, regardless whether they make us sting or sing, or whether they bring pain or bring joy. Our reliance on God cannot and must not rely on His providing everything that we want, for if we ask God to provide for everything we want, we automatically assume that we know what is best, and that our finite knowledge and experience of a few decades is loftier than the wisdom of the Creator of both life and time.

Though the sweetness of this earth has evaded us (“the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines”), we must trust in the sweetness of God.

His Word is ‘like honey on our lips’ (to steal a line from a worship song), and His wisdom is like honey to our souls. Though the prosperity of life hides itself from us (the olive crop fails), and we yearn for food (both spiritually and physically), we must trust that God has a plan, a purpose, an awe-inspiring plot behind the scenes that we are only beginning to awaken to. As in the book of Job (1:16-17), though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, we must fall on our faces and worship God for who He is, whether that be with anointing oil running down our faces, or whether we sit with shaved head in the midst of ashes wearing torn clothes.
On a more personal note, we must be supremely satisfied to know the Bridegroom and to attend their wedding feast. Our joy must be found full and complete in hearing the Bridegroom’s voice (John 3:29-31), though there is no mention of our own bride on this planet. John 3:27 says that man cannot receive anything unless it’s been given him from heaven. This includes our measure of faith (Ephesians 2:8), the grace that comes from it, and any other Gift (1 Corinthians 12) or Fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) that we experience in our days under the sun. Marriage is a gift, a responsibility, a dedication, a commitment, and a wondrous delight, but it need not distract us from the surpassing greatness of God, His Son Jesus, or the pursuit of His glory on this earth at the behest of the Holy Spirit.

God is our strength. To deny such is to deny belief in Him at all, which is a dangerous proposition at the very least. To forsake the rod and staff of God, to deny the authority of His law is to throw off the wonderfully secure blanket, to shred His hedge of protection, and to dismantle His fortress of defense in our lives brick by brick. He makes our feet like the deer and allows us to walk in high places. He allows us to transcend this world’s thorns and thistles, to scale the heights as only those who are pure in heart can (Psalm 15). Therefore we submit to His authority, His will for our lives and put our concerns fully in His hands, casting our anxieties at His wonderful feet, and though we may cry tears of pain or joy, we are fully confident that they are falling on the feet of our Savior, our Protector, our Potter and Creator.

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Geese and Confession

I was watching this show on the Discovery Channel and I observed something that made me immediately sit back and think.

The show had a few men and women testing and foot-tagging Canadian geese for some kind of scientific data endeavor. They had helicopters hovering overhead so the geese would feel intimidated and not fly off, and then they built a corral of sorts to herd the geese into. After all of this goose wrangling, they picked out the geese one-by-one and put the foot tag on, swabbing them to see if they had bird flu, and doing a few other things. Once the workers were finished with this alien-abduction-like process, the geese were free to go. But the birds wouldn’t run off or fly away – even after the helicopter had gone and the restrictions on their wings were removed. The former goose captives, even though they were free to go, would huddle back up with the rest of the gaggle… back inside the corral. They chose a communal prison rather than the temporary isolation of freedom (the birds always find each other in the wild fairly quickly).As I thought about this, I wondered to myself whether we Christians aren’t the same way sometimes. After being convicted of sin and asking God for forgiveness, rather than escaping into the newness of life and the freedom that ensues confession and openness (as James 5:16 tells us), we huddle back up with the other captives and hurry on as if nothing has changed. We’re back in captivity with the rest of the evangelical gaggle. No observable repentance, no discernible victory, no lasting change… sanctification grinds to a halt. But what if we were, like Nate Larkin – the author of “Samson and the Pirate Monks” – to be mature enough and confident enough in our God and His Son Christ Jesus that we could and would confess our sins to each other and experience the healing within the safe confines of true Christian unity. In “Samson,” Nate tells his gritty story of addiction, adultery, pain, and long agonizing despair in sin. But he also tells of the victory that is found in godly repentance, spirit-led confession, and the true victory that walking in the light brings. It is one of the few books that addresses sin as it truly is, and warns of the danger of keeping secret sin from the potentially helpful awareness of true brothers and sisters in the faith.

I think it took this one crazy goose who went off into the freedom of open confession and the joy in victorious living for me to see that the way to holiness and continuing sanctification is by weeping at the foot of the cross, but not alone in my room at night before I sleep… rather in the sight of trusted believers. And I’ve found two really cool things… First, I’ve seen that it hasn’t necessarily made my struggles easier, but it’s made my walk more comfortable because I know that I don’t have to be the hero. I don’t have to be the Christian Superman who has it all down. Second, I’ve realized that there are a lot of solid, mature believers out living in the openness of true confession and repentance. The community is real, the brotherhood authentic, the relationships wholesome and fulfilling. The rest of the evangelical geese back in the communal captivity of the religious corral have some semblance of community, but it’s all based on a common fear – that their armor might be seen as rusty or that it might have a weak spot or two. But I’ve found that the true community is found in patching each other’s armor and grinding the rust off each other’s blade.

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” – James 5:16

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17

“The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” – Romans 13:12

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Future Past

The following post was a short thought written to myself on 10.5.08. As I’ve revisited it, I’ve been driven to meditate on God’s grace in a more realized way. I hope that you find encouragement in it, and that Paul’s words and God’s mercies impact you in some way – be it new or different.

Future Past
I think what I may need to begin understanding life and living it well (or at least better) is a redeemed perspective. Always before I’ve carried around this burden of my past – memories, experiences, guilt, pride, etc. This has played a large part in how I view the present, and also shapes how I view the future (I don’t want to repeat past mistakes, and think that the ‘good old days’ are the best that it can get). So I think I need to take a page out of Paul’s letter to the Philippians… ‘forgetting what lies behind…’ I need to learn from the past, to be sure… but it can’t dictate me and control how I perceive things. I must see the hand of God working in and among my life’s events, and trust that He knows that my path is straight, regardless how many roadblocks, potholes, and seemingly dead-ends there are. To live with joy, I think begins with redeeming the past and looking at the present as a ‘future past’… that is, to see that someday I’ll be looking back on this time and realize I missed opportunities, took chances, made good decisions, or screwed stuff up. It takes on a more heavenly view of things, rather than focusing on the mundane vanities under this sun.

If all goes well in this department, it seems as though the future will take a backseat for the time being, and in so doing will free me up to dream, respond to God in faithful obedience, and not be so anchored by the doubt, insecurity, and pride that has shackled me to the old man that I was. I look forward to what God may or may not teach me through this. I’m just along for the ride at this point.

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